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SHC problems identify to provincial powers on plea against non-payment of printing media dues

KARACHI: The Sindh High Court ( SHC ) on Thursday granted notices to the provincial advocate general, the chief secretary and the secretary of data division on a petition against non-payment of the govt advertising dues to the print media since 2005-06. A two-judge bench, comprising Justices Muhammad Ali Mazhar and Agha Faisal, requested the AG Sindh to post feedback on behalf of the respondents and adjourned the court date until May 30.

The petition was filed by the Council of Pakistan Newspapers Editors ( CPNE ) through its secretary common Dr. Abdul Jabbar Khattak against the provincial govt for not removing advertising payments of its member newspapers lying outstanding since 2005-06. Citing the Sindh govt through the chief secretary and data and archives division through its secretary as respondents, the petitioner published through its counsel Rafiq Kalwar that the petitioner have been aggrieved by the nonfeasance and inaction of the respondents with regard to the advertising bills of the subscribers of the CPNE of final many years, which was causing critical economic crunch and turmoil in the paper business leading to collapse of the daily paper business and violation of fundamental rights of workers/employees of the newspapers ie member organisations of the petitioner.

It was posted that the provincial govt have been availing the advertisements services from the papers, which were members of the CPNE, through its ministry of data and archives, but they had failed to pay the excellent advertisement dues of the newspapers of previous several years, either directly or through the advertisement agencies. The respondents despite availing the advertisements from the petitioner’s member businesses have failed to fully satisfy their bills for the fiscal years 2005-06, 2012-13, 2013-14, 2014-15, 2015-16, 2016-17 and 2017-18.

“The petitioner and its subscribers have been moving from pillar to submit for the satisfaction of the outstanding liabilities against the respondents , but to no avail ,” Mr Khattak submitted in the petition , adding that due to non-payment of the excellent advertisement dues, liabilities lying outstanding against the provincial officers have been accruing and has piled up in billions of rupees . He submitted that due to non-payment of the bills, the last toll of the crunch being faced by the newspapers/member of the petitioner is resulting in job loss of its employees. The petitioner company and other relevant organization of the media business appealed to the specific governments and to the Chief Justice of Pakistan to take notice of the aggravating crisis in the newspaper and other mass media sections of the business.

The counsel informed that the Supreme Court took notice of the appeals by the media houses regarding non-payment of dues by the government and laying off of the workers , and in October 2018 the then Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar chaired a conference with the agents of the federal and provincial governments and the media houses during which the provincial governments’ representatives conceded that the outstanding liabilities of the media homes will be paid within 4 weeks . Mr Kalwar posted that having sufficient funds available to clear the dues of the media houses , the Sindh financial department had reportedly moved a summary to the chief minister for approval to clear the dues of the media houses , as per directions of the JCP , attaching that the CM had asked the information department to carry out the confirmation of the bills through qualified and independent auditors .

He more posted that auditors appointed for the purpose in accordance with Sindh Public Procurement Rules, 2010 had reportedly confirmed the media houses’ bills and submitted their report to the govt. However, despite the confirmation and inspection of the bills by various departments of the Sindh government and the independent auditors, the declared summary was being thrown from 1 department to another and the dues were still outstanding. It is further posted that despite the hardships and issues being faced by the media houses, the similar is keeping restricted to their pledge of not laying off the workers due to non-payment of dues by the respective governments, which was becoming challenging for the media houses due to constant delay in payment of dues.

The courtroom was pleaded to declare that the non-payment of the excellent advertisement bills of members of the petitioner since past several years by the provincial government authorities was illegal, illegal and mala fide. The petitioner also prayed to declare the non-payment of the outstanding dues by the respondents a violation of Article 9 and 14 of the Constitution since the same adversely affects the interests and rights of the media workers, workers, journalists of the newspapers.

Furthermore, a direction was sought for the Sindh government authorities to completely clear and satisfy the advertisement dues and bills of the CPNE members, preferably before the lapse of the present economic yr, or, with shortest possible time as prescribed at the discretion of the courtroom. The courtroom was urged to pass ad-interim orders in the meanwhile by restraining the respondents from causing the lapse of the funds , specifically reserved under the head of the data department for the purpose of clearance of dues to the newspapers/CPNE members , at the end of present fiscal yr and direct them to carry forward the declared reserve funds for the said purpose to the next fiscal year .

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