Cassette exposes govt's assault on press

Mir Shakil says govt preparing anti-state cases against him; fears for his life; 'our organisation is being destroyed'; audio cassette of talks with Saif, Mushahid played during crowded press conference; journalists flabbergasted

By our correspondent

KARACHI: Editor-in-Chief of Jang Group of Newspapers Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman on Thursday said that after victimising his group by freezing its accounts, seizing newsprint and serving income tax notices, the government was now preparing anti-state cases against him. Addressing a crowded press conference at the Karachi Press Club, Mir Shakil said that there would not be any problem for the Jang Group if he bowed before the PML government, instead of publishing the truth.

The editor-in-chief said that the PML government had attempted to create an impression that the action against the Jang Group of Newspapers was an administrative affair because of income tax issues and misuse of newsprint quota. But every government action taken against his group was to stop printing of those news items, which would go against the interest of the prime minister, his business concerns and his family, he added.

Flanked by senior journalists Z A Sulehri, Irshad Ahmad Haqqani, Maleeha Lodhi and Kamila Hayat, Mir Shakil said that he was under tremendous pressure from Ehtesab Bureau chief Saifur Rahman, who was out to victimise the Jang Group of Newspapers for not bowing before his whims.During the press conference, Mir Shakil also played an audio cassette on which some of his talks with Senator Saifur Rahman, Information Minister Mushahid Hussain and senior journalist Mujeeb-ur-Rahman Shami, who played the mediator's role, were recorded.

The cassette also included the following dialogue between Mir Shakil and Senator Saifur Rahman: "Mir Shakil: The Income Tax Appellate Tribunal has given verdict in our favour. "Saif: This was because of our leniency. We did not give him (chairman of the tribunal) the instructions. If we had given him the instructions, even his father could not have given that decision." Regarding the character of IT Tribunal Chairman Mujibullah Siddiqui, Mir Shakil said that he was an honest officer and had enjoyed enviable reputation for his integrity. This was a fact endorsed by senior lawyers, who had come to hear Mir Shakil's press conference.

During the recorded meetings, Senator Saif and Information Minister Mushahid Hussain were heard demanding favours from the Jang Group on policies regarding the governor's rule in Sindh, the Shariah Bill and the economic policies. The government functionaries were heard as saying that 14 people on senior positions both in the Jang and The News should be removed. The journalists included Maleeha Lodhi, Kamila Hayat, Irshad Ahmad Haqqani, Mahmood Sham, Kamran Khan, Abid Tahami, Marghoob, Khawar, Aftab Iqbal and others.

The government also demanded that such journalists should be replaced by people who could favour the government's policies. The government had divided the unfavourable journalists into 'A' and 'B' categories. Raising objections on the reports of investigative reporter Kamran Khan, Saif said during the meetings the government had secured assurances from the ISI about him and he should be controlled by Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman.

The government team also accused the Jang Group of spreading hatred among the masses against the ruling party. They demanded that telephonic surveys on national issues should not be conducted by newspapers. Mir Shakil said that because of restrictions on newsprint supply, the Jang Group was facing hardships in bringing out its daily newspapers.

"Despite clearance from the Customs authorities, 2,000 reels of paper have not been released todate. Because of this problem, from Saturday, daily Jang will print only six pages and The News will bring out 10 pages," he added. Mir Shakil said: "All our bank accounts have been seized. The personal accounts of mine and my mother have also been seized. Yesterday (Wednesday) when my brother gave statement in our favour, his account in the United Bank Ltd, Al-Rahman Branch, was also seized."

The editor-in-chief said that the Supreme Court was moved against the injustices meted out by the PML government. "It was a remarkable thing that this step was taken by us in the country," he added. Mir Shakil said reports were received that anti-state cases were being prepared against him. He said: "The government is making all out attempts that the issue should not be construed as one of 'press freedom' and 'freedom of expression'. I am afraid that something terrible is in the making. I also fear for my life." He said he would prove whatever published in the Jang Group of Publications was the truth.

"Whatever we published was also covered by other newspapers, but only our group was being targeted. I don't care whatever they will do with me. I will prove each and everything on the basis of logic and facts. Whatever we published, it is our job to prove it. And what the government said, it is their responsibility to prove it," Mir Shakil remarked.

The editor-in-chief said that the government's actions were based on malicious intentions and were taken with 'unfair mind'. According to the tape-recorded message, Senator Saifur Rahman said that the income tax and other legal notices would be withdrawn and government advertisements would be released, if the Jang Group supported the government's policies.

Mir Shakil said: "There was a time when I got confused. I thought about my life, my family, my organisation and about my 4,000 workers and their families. It is very difficult to stand before the state power. Some people advised me to bow down and accept the government's conditions to save the institutions. But there were also people who advised me to stand for the truth."

Regarding a story which was published in daily Observer of London and reproduced in Pakistan by a number of newspapers but could not be covered by the Jang because of pressure from the government, the editor-in-chief said: "I felt sorry for it. In the market economy, it is very difficult to survive, if one is not in the competition."

Mir Shakil said: "The government did too much against us and is still doing a lot. The organisation of newspaper owners -- the All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS) -- and the association of editors -- the Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors (CPNE) -- also intervened into the matter. But under the given circumstances, the Jang Group had to take decisions which were not recommended by the APNS and the CPNE. But they are with us. There is also a resolution from them in our favour."

The editor-in-chief said that the situation was in the Jang Group's favour. "We were not involved in selling imported newsprint quota in the market. We did not avoid payment of income tax. We did not publish stories which were incorrect," he added. Without giving names of other newspaper organisations involved in selling newsprint quota, Mir Shakil said the government was not taking any action against them.

The editor-in-chief said that when he addressed a press conference in August 1998, some newspapers played a nasty role. "They propagated that there was a deal between the government and the Jang Group. But that was not true. If there was any deal and if that was any administrative matter, then why the ban was imposed on releasing public sector advertisements to us," he added.

Mir Shakil said: "I did not leave any stone unturned to resolve the issue. I went from pillar to post. I wrote a letter to Abbaji, the father of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, but to no avail. The government's action against the Jang Group began in August 1998, when income and wealth tax cases of the group's various companies and directors, previously being dealt by different Income Tax (IT) circles, were pooled in one circle. This circle is renowned as a branch of the Ehtesab Bureau in the IT Department where cases of those politicians are dealt, against whom the government has decided to take any action."

Referring to a television programme telecast the previous night on the PTV, Mir Shakil said that it was a one-sided propaganda. "If there is democracy, then versions of both the sides should be presented and then experts will decide what is right and what is wrong. This is the policy of the Jang Group to give views of all concerned parties. We have printed complete view of the government's side also in our newspapers," he remarked.


February 07, 1999
The News International Pakistan