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March 22, 2020

Continued targeting

Editorial

 
March 22, 2020

For decades, successive governments in Pakistan have attempted to use harassment as a means to silence dissent. Such harassment – through filing false cases through defamation campaigns or by labeling individuals and organisations as 'traitors' or by using accountability as a weapon – is extremely dangerous. They break the bond of trust between citizens and the state which is essential to the functioning of any modern entity. A state grows weaker from within when its own citizens no longer trust it. We are currently seeing one of the worst orchestrated such attempts.

After efforts to implicate the editor-in-chief of the Jang/Geo Group Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman in a three-decade old case involving land purchase, orders have now been issued to find any other case against him which will stick. According to information available to this publication, government departments have been asked to dig up whatever they have. But there are problems here. A loan taken from the National Bank of Pakistan in 2009 cannot be used to frame Mir Shakil given that the case was already settled in 2012, with both the loan and interest paid to the bank on agreed conditions. The allegation that Geo is backed by foreign funds has also come up before, during the Musharraf era and after that. This essentially relates to the airtime given to the Voice of America in the past, when other channels did precisely the same. A detailed response was provided by Geo and the matter floundered. There are also attempts on to bring cases regarding the filing status of companies falling under the Geo-Jang umbrella and the registration with the Security and Exchange Commission of Pakistan. At present, there is no case against Geo-Jang from the SECP. In fact, no media company has filed audited accounts with the SECP and less than five percent of private companies have completed such filing. Obviously, action taken would have to be across the board, going after virtually every company in Pakistan rather than targeting only a single media group.

When the government formed its media commission, anchors with Geo-Jang in a petition submitted to the Supreme Court offered to file not only the assets of their owners but also those of anchors and other journalists working for the group. In the past, Geo won a huge case in a British court after being falsely accused by the ARY Group, which claimed Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman was a traitor and enemy of the state. The British court ordered ARY to pay three million pounds in damages for this attempted defamation. It is quite obvious that simply attempting to concoct cases does more damage than good. Similar attempts have been made not only against Jang/Geo but also other individuals in the past. They have not worked. The government must understand that nothing good has ever come out of clamping down on journalism. These are trying times; the government would do well to reconsider its consistent targeting of one media group.