Govt issues rebuttal to Jang Group's allegations

ISLAMABAD: A government spokesman Sunday issued a point-wise rebuttal to the allegations made by the Jang Group and urged the group not to try to impose its double standards on rest of the nation and respect mandate of the people of Pakistan."The government feels that the freedom of the press is an integral part of democracy where the Jang Group should not try to impose its own double standards on the rest of the nation," he said while releasing a so-called "Fact Sheet," called "Jang Group's fiction versus the truth."

The spokesman said the Jang Group should learn to develop tolerance for other peoples' freedom, including the mandate of the people of Pakistan, so that all institutions in our democracy could play their respective roles in a spirit of freedom, tolerance and only one commitment, namely the commitment to serve Pakistan and its people.

He said the government welcomed the decision of All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS) to send a delegation to hold discussions with the government on government-press relations, including the cases being pursued under law by concerned departments against the Jang Group's tax evasion. "In the past too, the government has always had its doors open for a dialogue and discussion with the representatives of the media on all media-related issues."

He recalled that the last time when the APNS met on August 27, 1998, in Islamabad, the next day, the information minister invited Mir Shakilur Rehman, over lunch to his residence and before that he received a delegation of the APNS to discuss government-press relations. The same evening, the spokesman said, there was a briefing for the media by the prime minister and Mir Shakilur Rehman was also present on the occasion and he also had an exclusive one-on-one conversation with the prime minister.

After that meeting, he said, the prime minister made two foreign visits, one in September to attend the UN General Assembly in New York and the other in December, an official visit to the US in Washington. "On both occasions, representatives of the Jang-News were invited to accompany the prime minister as his guests which they duly did.

This only goes to show that the government did not discriminate against the Jang Group and treated it at par with other newspaper organisations who were invited to send their representatives on foreign visits of the prime minister." Later, the government spokesman said, when the APNS decided to form a one-man committee under Mujibur Rehman Shami to discuss these issues with the government, there were meetings with the federal government on two occasions in November, the last being November 19, 1998, where Mir Shakilur Rehman was also present and these meetings took place in the presence of Mujibur Rehman Shami who is privy to all the conversations that took place.

The spokesman said it is in this context that the federal government welcomed the APNS initiative to send a delegation to meet with the federal government. In this regard, he said, the acting president of APNS, Hameed Haroon, called on the information minister on Saturday, December 19, at 3.30 pm to set up an appointment for the delegation for Monday, December 21, which has already been scheduled. The government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, the spokesman said, has had a consistent, clear and categorical commitment to the freedom of press and freedom of expression since this is an indispensable basis of the democratic process.

"This commitment is so comprehensive that the government has allowed the RPPO, the law which regulates the press, to lapse because it feels that the new law should be in place after consensus with the media. And even a cursory glance at the national press will testify to the government's commitment to press freedom since it has always promoted, preserved and protected freedom of the press as an article of faith as the government itself, particularly Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, and his colleagues, are a product of a culture of democracy in which dissent and difference of opinion are necessary and essential ingredients."

However, he regretted that a spokesman of the Jang Group through a statement published in their organs, namely, 'Jang' and 'The News' has chosen to promote contradictions and concoctions aimed at covering up their tax evasion in the name of press freedom, which has never been the issue and which is certainly not at stake in the lively and vibrant democracy of Pakistan.

Some examples of the fiction peddled by the Jang Group's spokesman as opposed to the fact are necessary to set the record straight. Three such examples are quite relevant, he said, and these emanate from the contradictions and concoctions of the Jang Group itself: In response to Jang Group's claim that it has "always tried to present correct statistics" and "it is the Jang Group's commitment to the truth that has caused the government anger and ire," the government spokesman said the Jang Group even published a story on October 31, 1998 which was totally false and baseless, that the "World Bank declares the government has defaulted."

Luckily, he said, that false story appeared on a Saturday issue and the stock market was closed otherwise it would have done a more serious damage to the national interest and national economy than it already did. Thankfully, he said, the Jang Group realised its serious and grave blunder and the damage it did to the national interest by publishing this concoction, and published a front-page retraction of this falsehood. Referring to Jang Group's allegation of victimisation, the spokesman said the Jang Group has itself admitted that "the Income Tax Appellate Tribunal has set aside the action of the income tax authorities on several cases. The tribunal has also restored the frozen accounts of the Group."

"On one hand, the Jang Group accuses the government of vendetta and victimisation through influencing the income tax authorities against the Jang Group, and in the same breath the Jang Group is admitting that it is getting relief from that department's own Appellate Tribunal which only goes to show that these cases are NOT politically motivated, NOT inspired by the government and NOT being pursued at the behest of the government."

After all, he said, if the Income Tax Department is deciding the cases in Jang's favour, as admitted by the Jang spokesman, then how come they are accusing the government of using that department to pressurise Jang. "The Jang spokesman's statement only proves the government's contention that the cases are being pursued in a legal, professional manner on the basis of merit and facts alone." On Jang Group's fiction that government sought the termination of services of 16 journalists," the spokesman said: "The Ministry of Information categorically denies that it ever made such a demand."

In fact, he said, one of the journalists listed has even been given the Pride of Performance Award by the government. "Perhaps, it is a case of pot calling the kettle black since Hamid Mir, Editor of 'Ausaf', has openly stated that he was sacked during the PPP regime by the Jang management at the behest of Asif Ali Zardari who was also apparently instrumental in getting journalists of his choice appointed in the same group."

In fact, he said, at the dinner hosted by the information minister for the APNS on August 27, 1998 at Marriott Islamabad, Hamid Mir confronted the functionary of the Jang Group with this question in the presence of the information minister and the functionary denied making such allegations. It may be added, he said, that the management of the Jang Group never has had pangs of conscience in sacking its journalists in an ungracious manner which has included publishing their photographs on the front-page together with their dismissal orders.

For example Athar Arif, Sub Editor Jang, Lahore in 1981 and the manner in which journalists and other employees of the Jang Group are kept on contract through front companies smacks of an anti-trade union, anti-journalist and beggar camp managers approach who wants to keep the journalists on tight leash so that they can be dismissed at will by the management as there is no security of service under such conditions. "One hundred and twenty journalists and other employees were sacked by the Jang Group Management in August 1998 alone, for instance Mr Attaullah Chaudhry, Secretary Jang Workers Union (CBA) was sacked in 1997 for filing a case, which he won, on behalf of 262 employees on contract."

In light of these facts, government spokesman said, the people of Pakistan, particularly the readership of the 'Jang' and 'The News', have the right to ask the management of the 'Jang' the following questions: "Why it refuses to pay the taxes? Are the 'Jang' and 'The News' such a holy cow that they are over and above the law of the land that they should be exempt from payment of taxes to the nation, something which the 'Jang' and 'The News' seeks in its editorials for others, but refuses to accept for itself?"

He further questioned: "Are not the Jang and The News Groups guilty of blatant double standards, seeking a status for itself that is separate and different for the rest of the country? Is tax evasion not a crime in all civilised societies?" The government spokesman questioned why were the most Jang journalists on contract? "Would the Jang Group like to release to the people the list of its total journalists and other employees who are on contract through cover companies and, therefore, liable to dismissal at a moment's notice by the anti-worker and anti-professional journalist management of this group?"

The spokesman said the present government has a commitment to law, morality and the Constitution, and as Muslims it has a commitment to Allah as well. "And unlike the 'Jang' and 'The News' management, it will never stoop to such a level as they have done just to save themselves from paying taxes which are due to them. "The government wishes to reaffirm and reiterate its firm commitment to freedom of the press and freedom of expression which includes dissent, difference of opinion and criticism of the government which is an inalienable right of the people, including the press."

He added: "The government would like to request the Jang Group and The News, which have built empires through concealment of income and tax evasion, not to measure freedom of press by the size of their bank balance and it would also request the Jang Group management to do something for the welfare of the journalists and employees who are on its pay-roll.

The News International Pakistan