PMW: Serious problems with Misused Funds Report

This blog post appeared in Pakistan Media Watch on August 15, 2010

Saturday’s edition of The Nation included an article that claims that
President Zardari has been misusing foreign aid from the 2005
Earthquake. The story has now been picked up by Express Tribune, Dawn,
and others. But where did this story come from, and is it reliable?

The story originated with Dean Nelson, the Telegraph’s South Asia
Editor based in New Delhi, when he wrote for the British newspaper on
Friday that Zardari ‘misused’ over £300 million in foreign aid for
victims of the 2005 earthquake. (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/
worldnews/asia/pakistan/7944792/300m-earthquake-aid-misused-by-

Zardari.html)


The first observation that must be made is that the Telegraph’s
headline is so misleading that one must wonder if the newspaper is
being deliberately untruthful for the sake of sensationalism. The idea
that Asif Ali Zardari misused any earthquake relief funds is supported
by absolutely nothing in Dean Nelson’s article.

Actually, what Dean Nelson writes is problematic on its own right.

First, Mr Nelson’s claim is based on statements by “senior Pakistani
officials”. As if taking a cue from our own media, Mr Nelson does not
reveal who these supposed officials are – not even what office they
allegedly hold.

Second, nowhere in Mr Nelson’s article is there any evidence presented
for misuse of funds. What the reporter writes is that some anonymous
“officials” (and we’ve seen how reliable anonymous officials can be –
http://pakistanmediawatch.com/?s=anonymous+officials) have told him
that their office suffered budget cuts.

But even Mr Nelson’s own article contradicts this fact when the only
named official, Finance Secretary Salman Siddique explained that the
issue is not foreign aid money being diverted, but that ERRA had
requested extra funds that were not available due to the country’s
fiscal deficit. As for foreign aid funds, “No cuts were imposed last
year,” the Finance Secretary stated.

Mr Dean Nelson, who goes by the name, ‘DelhiDean’ on Twitter (http://
twitter.com/delhidean), is a curious fellow. His recent Twitter feed
takes swipes at Pakistani politicians, saying Salmaan Taseer is
“sucking up” and calling Zardari “toast”. Reading his off-the-cuff
statements and the sensational headline that is not supported by his
reporting, one one cannot help but think that Mr Dean Nelson has a
political angle.

In fact, reading past articles by Mr Dean Nelson leaves one with the
distinct impression that he cannot write objectively about Pakistan –
certainly not about Zardari. Mr Nelson’s article of 5 August is
titled, “Bilawal Bhutto Zardari: Born to rule Pakistan, but destined
to fail” that repeats a string of anti-PPP talking points including
the old story that Zardari “purged” Benazir supporters from the party
leadership (http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/deannelson/100049711/
bilawal-zardari-bhutto-born-to-rule-pakistan-but-destined-to-fail/
).
Much like his Pakistani colleague Shaheen Sehbai, Mr Dean Nelson seems
to have traded his press pass for a political badge and a crystal
ball. (http://pakistanmediawatch.com/tag/fortune-telling/)

DelhiDean, as he calls himself, has a much different attitude towards
India (http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/deannelson/100049027/what-
have-the-indians-ever-done-for-us/
), though, writing that:

“To succeed, Britain will need to be reminded how much we already owe
India, the part it played in making us what we are, and why the
“shared history” we have is much more equally shared than those who
obsess about immigration realise.”

It is sad to see a reporter of Dean Nelson’s stature resort to
blatantly political posturing in a nation which he does not live and
has no connection. While he writes that the UK ‘owes’ India, he
discourages people from helping flood victims in Pakistan because of a
personal dislike of the nation’s president. He let his own political
feelings cloud his judgment, and he called attention to
unsubstantiated rumours with sensational headlines to ensure that he
got more attention than those who are suffering.

But there is one thing more sad than this, which is that our own media
has picked up this story and repeated it without asking the obvious
questions. Who are these “officials” that claimed funds have not been
released? Where are these funds that were supposedly misused? And why
is a British reporter based in New Delhi writing sensational political
articles to discourage humanitarian relief in Pakistan?

That’s the real story.

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