ISLAMABAD, AUG 7 (DNA) – Senator Shibli Faraz, Federal Minister for Information who attended the Zoom meeting of the Executive Committee of the APNS, assured that the Federal Government would positively respond on the issues raised by the APNS particularly increase in the quantum of advertisements, suspending the process of ABC verification, relief package for newspaper industry, promotion of regional press and regional language publications, immediate payment of refund of Withholding Tax by FBR and enhancement of government advertisement rates.
The Executive Committee of the APNS held it meeting on Zoom wherein Senator Shibli Faraz, Federal Minister for Information, Mr. Akbar Hussain Durrani, Secretary Information and Ms. Shahera Shahid, PIO attended on special invitation. Mr. Sarmad Ali, Secretary General pointed out that the Prime Minister has repeatedly advised the concerned ministries to clear the outstanding dues amounting to Rs.1.048 billion but a substantial amount still remains unpaid.
He stated that the quantum of advertisements released by the Federal Government, has decreased by over 50% whereas in the pandemic situation, the media expected support from the government to brave the financial crunch. He suggested that the quantum of ads be restored, if not increased, to the level of 2018, so that the newspaper industry would be able to survive in the present conditions. It was pointed out that 8th Wage Board has recommended payment of outstanding dues, and increase in the government rates as per increase in the CPI to build the capacity of newspapers to implement the salary increase by the 8th Wage Board. He asserted that if the above recommendations are not implemented forthwith it would be difficult for establishments to implement the Wage Board.
The members also pointed out that the ABC has started raids on the premises of newspapers and presses to verify circulations which is causing harassment. They pointed out that in the present pandemic situation, economic standstill and lockdowns, the newspapers distribution system has broken down and they are unable to maintain their normal circulations. It was suggested that the verification process be deferred for 06 months till the economic activity comes to normalcy.
The Minister was apprised that with the implementation of the New Advertising Policy from April, 2020 the invoices for ads released by the PID, have not yet been processed and no mechanism of payment has been evolved which would further aggravate the financial crunch in the industry and publications would not be able to meet their obligations especially for timely payment of salaries to their employees. The members also pointed out that the Prime Minister at the beginning of COVID-19 pandemic, had advised the FBR to immediately effect the payment of refunds of Withholding Tax but the refunds pertaining to newspapers, have not been paid despite various communications.
The members raised the issue of the continuous incarceration of Mir Shakil-ur-Rehman on unfounded charges and termed his arrest as an attack on the freedom of press. They asked the Minister to himself look at the charges framed against Mir Shakil-ur-Rehman to understand how baseless the case is. In fact, the frivolity of the case reminds one of the charges of stealing buffalos against Ch. Zahoor Elahi in the seven-tees.
The Federal Minister gave a patient hearing to the members of the Executive Committee and announced that the Federal Government acknowledges the importance of print media and was keen to address the issues confronted by the newspaper industry. He appreciated that the quantum of advertisements needs to be increased and priority be accorded to the promotion of regional press in the country. In this respect, the Ministry has evolved a policy of ads release to regional publications which will be shared with the APNS. He also stated that the newspaper industry deserves a relief package as given to other sectors for which, he will talk to the Prime Minister. On the issue of the refund of Withholding Tax, he assured to take up the matter with the Finance Advisor, Dr. Abdul Hafeez Sheikh and other concerned authorities. The Minister also agreed in principle with the APNS request to suspend ABC verification process and assured to revert back after consultation within the Ministry.
The meeting was attended on Zoom by following members at APNS House Karachi, PC Hotel Lahore and Marriot Islamabad :
Mumtaz A. Tahir, Vice President, Sarmad Ali, Secretary General, Shahab Zuberi, Finance Secretary, Syed Sajjad Bokhari (Daily Abtak), Bilal Farooqi (Daily Aghaz), Mukhtar Ahmed Aaqil (Weekly Al Akhbar), Mohsin Bilal (Daily Ausaf), Waseem Ahmed (Daily Awam), Ansar Mahmood Bhatti (Monthly Centre Line), Naveed Chaudhry (Daily City 42), Hasan Akbar (Dawn), Fauzia Shaheen (Monthly Dastak), Najamuddin Sheikh (D/Deynat), Kazi Asad Abid (Fortnightly Ibrat), Faisal Shahjehan (Daily Jiddat, Karachi), Mustansar Javed (Daily Mashriq, Quetta), Mushtaq Ahmed Qureshi (Monthly Naey Ufaq), Inayat ullah Khan (Monthly Naya Rukh), Rukhsana Saulat Saleemi (Weekly Nikhar), Umer Mujib Shami (D/Pakistan, Lahore) Faisal Zahid Malik (D/Pakistan Observer), Jamil Athar (Daily Tijarat) and Syed Haroon Shah (Daily Wahdat).
Mr. Mujib-ur-Rehman Shami attended on special invitation. DNA