Media Misreports Proposed Changes to American Aid

Jun 18th, 2011 | By | Category: Dawn, Dunya, The News

Recent reports of possible cuts to American aid have been in the headlines this week after a committee in the American Congress proposed some budget changes that affect US aid policy. As these proposed changes directly affect aid to Pakistan, this is a legitimate news story. But if we examine the way media groups are reporting the story, it appears that there may be some problems.

An American political newspaper described the proposed changes as a request for greater transparency and accountability in how the Congress is spending American tax payer’s money.

Legislative language withholds three-quarters of the funds until the Defense and State Department come up with a report to Congress on how the money is being used and what metrics are being used to measure progress by Pakistan in rooting out terrorist and Taliban elements inside its borders.

These may be simply accounting details intended to prevent corruption, but this is not how the proposed changes to American aid are being characterised by the media.

On Friday, Dawn misreported proposed changes to American aid in an article titled, ‘Obama to address Pakistan’s concerns’. The Dawn article includes the following claim:

Earlier this week, lawmakers proposed linking 75 per cent of US assistance to Pakistan to its performance in the war against terror.

Dawn is not the only media group to sensationalise the story by characterising it as a punishment or another example of the ‘do more’ mantra. On Thursday, Dunya reported that ‘US Congress seeks to axe Pakistan’s aid by 75%’.

The US Congress Appropriations committee recommended a 75 percent reduction in the US aid to Pakistan.

This claim is incorrect. The American Congressmen did not simply recommend reduction in US aid to Pakistan, but asked only for greater accountability and transparency in how the money is spent. If the money is not being spent properly, then it would not be granted. Looked at this way, the proposal is an anti-corruption measure in the US Congress.

To its credit, The News (Jang Group) reported the story more accurately:

The panel approved the $649 billion in defense spending bill on a voice vote and forwarded it to the full House for consideration, expected later this month. The Senate is still working on its version of the bill. The two houses must pass the same bill before sending it to Obama for his signature.

However it should be noted that The News report was actually taken directly from a report by Reuters without giving attribution. Additionally it should also be noted that The News changed the headline from the original Reuters piece:

‘House panel backs $649 billion in defense spending’

To a different headline that gives a story about the American political process and accountability a different meaning:

House panel puts bar on US aid to Pakistan

The report published by The News may be the most accurate of the stories quoted here, but it should be asked why did Jang Group choose to change the original headline?

Many media groups are reporting that American aid is being ‘barred’ or ‘cut’ when careful examination of the facts reveals that the American Congress appears to be including additional accountability and transparency measures that affect the US White House, not Pakistan. This is an important difference that should be clarified for the people. Unfortunately, the reporting appearing in the media is not clarifying the issue, it is confusing it.

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