Jang Group ready to face all cases in court: spokesman

By our correspondent

KARACHI: A spokesman for Jang Group of Newspapers on Saturday said that the sacred freedom of the press had been crucified, as the government, using various departments, had unleashed an unprecedented victimisation campaign against the group first time in the history of Pakistan's journalism.

The spokesman said the government's action has provoked large scale national and international condemnation. He said journalist bodies, Human Rights organisations and political parties have been outraged and have made their feelings known in the strongest possible language. At the international level, he said, the government's actions have created doubts and concerns about Pakistan's democratic credentials.

The spokesman reiterated that the Jang Group was being victimised and punished for its independent policies which it had pursued under various governments. "It is the Jang Group's commitment to the truth and to its readership that has caused the government's anger and ire. The group has never hesitated to unmask those who have looted and pillaged this country and its exchequer. It has always tried to present correct statistics against those who abused power and thought themselves above the law. Every government has recoiled from the image we presented in the mirror of history and has used false income tax cases and other pressure tactics against the group in order to blackmail it to toe the official line," he added.

According to the spokesman, last Sunday, senior functionaries of the government had tried to stop the Jang Group from publishing the London Observer's report against the Sharif family. At that time, the government had openly threatened the Group and said that if the report was published, income tax cases and allegations would be made public through the national press.

The spokesman said that the group was not perturbed by the threat. Over the past few months, he said, it had been at the receiving end of several income tax notices which were part of the government's ongoing campaign of vendetta. The Income Tax Appellate Tribunal had set aside the action of the tax authorities on several cases. The tribunal had also restored the frozen accounts of the group. The government knew that the Jang Group had a clean tax record and its newsprint policy was above board.

Afraid that the group might print details of its case, the government on Friday threatened that it was in a position to falsify tax records and fudge facts and figures. "The group was warned to weight the pros and cons of any statement it might consider making to the press. It was now absolutely clear that it had one and only one task ahead of it -- the closure of the Jang Group. It was conveyed to the group that unless and until it tailored its policy to the government's whims, each day would bring more vindictive actions," he added.

The spokesman said that the Jang Group's income tax records, wealth tax returns, newsprint matters and accounts were clean and in conformity with the laws of the land. The group, he said, had nothing to fear or be ashamed of because it had nothing to hide. "The group is confident that it will prove beyond a shadow of doubt in the courts and tribunals that the facts and figures submitted by the government are false, fabricated and have been manipulated and distorted on a horrific scale," he added.

The spokesman said that the Jang Group had never shrunk from any of its financial obligations nor had it ever avoided payment of due taxes. "The group believes that it is the right of the government to impose and collect taxes, and the duty of all citizens to pay taxes. However, the current spate of actions against the group appears to have been taken in the spirit of vengeance. It is not normal for a government to send tax notices with such frequency, freeze bank accounts, order the FIA to raid offices, threaten arrest and prosecution and publicise all actions prominently in the press. This is unnatural and abnormal and reeks of mala fide intent. The record will show that cases, which were resolved over the years, have now been re-opened and reactivated. And all this is being done to bring the group to heel. The government wants the group to abandon its independent policies. It wants the group to say the sun rises from the West. This is not possible," he said.

The spokesman said that the Jang Group was confident of its position. He said: "It is willing to produce evidences of a meeting, in which the government openly asked the group to terminate the services of 16 journalists. It has evidence to prove that the government made a series of demands over a period of time which could not be ceded to. The actions of the government are a direct result of the group's refusal to compromise on the principle of the freedom of the press.

The Jang Group believes in that principle and has always tried to subscribe to a policy of balance, honesty and highest value in its reportage, analyses and editorial comment. This policy has been adhered to because it is a sacred trust bestowed on the group as also practiced by its founder Mir Khalil-ur-Rahman.

The Jang Group vows, Inshallah, to continue with this policy without fear or favour. It is ready to face and defend all allegations and cases in the competent fora of the law. The group has complete faith and confidence in the superior courts. It believes that honest and diligent officials of various government departments will go about their duties while listening to the voice of their consciences and conduct themselves with honour within the framework of the law. This is in keeping with the principles laid down by the Founder of the Nation, Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah.

The group is confident that these officials will not allow themselves to become enslaved by a vindictive government. Governments come and go. The state and its institutions are permanent. In the past, governments have targeted the Jang Group and other institutions. By the Grace of God, the group has emerged unscathed by these attempts to smother it. Jang is a national institution. It is a national trust. It must survive, and God willing will survive.

Those governments which tried to muzzle the press have been consigned to the dustbin of history. In those days also, the group was granted relief by honest officials and the courts, which ruled against the tyranny of the government of the day. The reason for its honourable acquittal has always been the same. The group's records, accounts and conduct were beyond reproach and transparent. The Jang Group will continue to adhere to its independent policy and keep its readers informed about all those who loot the public wealth and default on bank loans. It will continue to wage a crusade against inflation and inform the public about the problems that they are likely to encounter due to governmental incompetence."

The spokesman said that the Jang Group would contest all pending cases in the court. The government, he said, had initiated new proceedings. "These will also be defended with vigour. The courts will decide. The people will then judge. In this regard, the group will shortly hold a press conference where the details of the ongoing saga will be laid before the people. Let the courts speak and justice prevail," he added.

The News International Pakistan