Media, TIP, and Allegation Laundering

The Punjab government finds itself on the wrong side of Transparency International Pakistan (TIP) due to the controversial laptop scheme. According to multiple media reports, TIP Advisor Syed Adil Gilani has written a letter to provincial secretary of the Punjab Planning and Development Department requesting investigation of possible violation of Punjab Procurement Rules, 2009 and a loss of at least Rs. 1.7 billion to the exchequer. What caught our attention, though, was Mr Adil Gilani’s evidence: “allegations reported in the print media”.

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The allegations referred to by TIP appears to be a report by Adnan Adil in Daily Times that raises some questions about the provincial government’s laptop scheme. But the original report itself actually raises some questions also. For example, how did Adnan Adil discover this information? According to his article he was told by anonymous ‘sources’.

Whether or not the allegations are true we do not know. What interests us is another side to this story – how the allegations have been ‘laundered’ in the media.

The original reporter Adnan Adil appears to have simply taken the claims of his mysterious ‘sources’ and published them as facts. TIP Advisor Adil Gilani then took the unsourced report and used it as the basis of a letter requesting an investigation. The media then took TIP’s letter and published new reports with sensational headlines like, ‘TIP smells Rs 1.7b rat in free laptop scheme’. What started out as unverified claims of mysterious ‘sources’ has now become a TIP anti-corruption campaign, even though it is no such thing – it remains a collection of unverified claims by unknown ‘sources’.

What has happened is essentially ‘allegation laundering’, similar to the way criminals engage in money laundering. Criminals don’t want the source of their funds to be known, so they create ‘shell’ companies that they invest in. These fake companies then turn around and invest the money in some legitimate scheme, and the proceeds of that investment appear to be legitimate even though they actually originated from criminal activity.

In this case, unverified claims from unknown sources were reported, then repeated by a known organisation, then reported again as being the concerns of the known organisation. Like the laundered money, their true source remains hidden.

Allegations are easy to make, and the media is filled with all types of claims. Some of us still remember when the Supreme Court called emergency hearings based on ‘allegations reported in the media’. Laundered allegations can never truly be clean. When these claims come from mysterious and unknown ‘sources’, it is the responsibility of journalists to ask whether they are being led by the nose in the pursuit of some agenda.

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