ISLAMABAD: The National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Information and Broadcasting Thursday decided to seek legal opinion on summoning the NAB prosecutor general with regard to the arrest of Jang/Geo Editor-in-Chief Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman (MSR) and action taken against his media group. The committee met here at the Pemra Headquarters with Mian Javed Latif in the chair.
Special Assistant to the PM on Information and Broadcasting Dr. Firdous Ashiq Awan, Chairman Pemra Saleem Baig, committee members, and secretary information attended the meeting.
The chairman said the owner of a large media house was arrested and it was being stated that this was done for pointing out wrongs in the government policies through a free media. If he was arrested as a businessman, then it would have to be seen in the context of the NAB Amendment Ordinance, he said.
He wondered what was the reason behind pushing the Geo News to the last number on the cable and one federal minister said that he had urged the prime minister for reconciliation with all.
Latif insisted that he should explain before the committee that if reconciliation was made, then the NAB would not touch anyone and if it would take action against the one, which would not agree to reconciliation.
“If the media will not be free, then it will be a very dangerous thing,” he remarked and invited the Geo News correspondent Arshad Waheed Chaudhry to apprise the committee of the background of arrest of Mir Shakil, who said the Jang and Geo Group was being constantly subjected to pressure not to publish and telecast content about the NAB.
He contended that had there been no role of the government or Pemra, then why was Geo News thrown to last numbers and the federal government and Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa governments banned release of the government ads to Jang and Geo Group.
To this, the committee chairman insisted that if the NAB would exert pressure on the media, then it would have to give an explanation. The panel chairman emphasized that if these allegations were true, then the existence of the committee was meaningless and for explanation on these allegations, the NAB prosecutor general be summoned in next meeting and one representative of the anti-graft body and of Geo News should explain their positions on these allegations.
However, to this the committee members, belonging to PTI, objected to the idea of summoning the NAB prosecutor general while Dr. Firdous Ashiq Awan said if the prosecutor general was to be called, then prior to this, legal opinion should be sought, as the matter was in the court.
She also said neither it was the government policy to go for vengeance nor it should also be seen whether it was a matter related to business or the media. Then she addressed the Geo correspondent and said if the government would get people arrested for criticism, then all TV anchorpersons, including him, would have been held.
Dr. Firdous made it clear that it was not the vision of prime minister to seek action against the media. The Pemra chairman said action had been taken at the behest of the NAB as the group was printing and airing one-sided reports and programmes against the NAB. In this context, fine was imposed on the Geo News for violation of the code of conduct.
PPP MNA Nafeesa Shah called for looking into what she called the retaliatory action against Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman while Marriyum Aurangzeb of PML-N contended that weakening of a media house tantamount to weakening the media workers.
She said the entire world was laughing at the action taken against Mir Shakil and demanded his immediate release. She called on Dr. Firdous to condemn the arrest of MSR to which she said Geo News had been shut during their government tenure.
Marriyum retorted by saying that when it was shut during their government, it was restored as well and that she always stood by the media. “She has conceded that Geo News has been shut during their tenure,” Dr. Firdous said.
After the opinion of the committee members, Mian Javed Latif said the committee had consensus on the fact that the NAB prosecutor general should be called but a proposal was floated for taking legal opinion first. Therefore, before the committee meeting on April 30, legal opinion would be sought and both NAB representative and that of Geo News would be present in the next meeting.”
The forum expressed grave concern over the disaster of Covid-19, which has paralyzed the whole world and emphasized the need for adopting identical precautionary measures throughout the country in consultation with all the provinces to avoid further expansion of the virus.
The committee directed that the ministry might give special incentives to the media workers and provide them with safety kits at the earliest so they could work more effectively for the community welfare.
Dr. Firdous briefed the meeting about the ministry’s measures with regard to the safety of media persons and provision of safety kits to them.
Responding to a question about safeguarding the interests of media workers, she replied that the government had decided to release the amount to media houses with the condition that they would immediately clear all the outstanding dues of media workers. PRA President Behzad Saleemi raised the issue of media workers’ salaries and safety kits.
Newspaper: The News