When a local newspaper that does not have its own website or a large readership, receives over Rs23 million in provincial government advertisements in one year, one knows that something is amiss. This unsettling feeling becomes even more pronounced when we realise that the newspaper in question is owned by provincial minister Shaukat Yousafzai and his brother.

The most damning evidence of any wrongdoing however, comes when you compare the newspaper’s provincial government advertisement revenue in the preceding four years to this astronomical Rs23 million payment made in just one; from 2014 to May 2018, the newspaper received a total of Rs 34.30 million. How can one year’s revenue stream from the government be increased by over 60 percent, unless this virtually unknown publication in question is being overcompensated.

The Minister’s response, according to the report in The News, leaves a lot to be desired. Marely claiming that he does not own the business – which is owned by his brother – is not enough. It does not even matter whether or not the minister is actually reaping the benefit from the profits of the newspaper. The fact remains that a virtually unknown publication with a very limited and localised readership is receiving state advertisements worth millions of rupees, bringing it at par with the biggest national dailies of the country.

If that does not indicate preferential treatment then what does? By the government’s own admission, it has been trimming the advertisement revenues of media companies on the basis of their audience base, and here we have a minister awarding ad after ad to a newspaper not many people have even heard of.

Even the most optimistic critics of the KP government would point towards corruption, and yet somehow this underhanded dealing with a business with a clear conflict of interest has not raised any suspicions for our over-zealous accountability bodies in the country. Why does the KP government continue to get away with major financial irregularities?

Make no mistake; the BRT project in Peshawar is a massive scandal that has yet to be noticed by anyone from accountability institutions. Shaukat Yousafzai must not receive this free pass as well; if he was a politician from any other party, he would have been under investigation right now. Given that even major publications have seen their state ad revenues dwindle, there is no reason for a random newspaper to be handed such large sums of money.

Since we have been led to believe that advertisements are now handed out on the merit-based system, how can this publication be ranked seventh nationally? The federal government must take notice, and we expect a swift reprisal for Yousafzai, the newspaper and those that orchestrated this shady deal.