Imran Khan will have to seek apology in court
KARACHI: The Jang/Geo Group on Saturday strongly rejected the baseless allegations levelled by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Chairman Imran Khan against the country’s biggest media house, saying that it maintains the highest level of transparency in all its financial and operational matters.
“Imran Khan is indulging in groundless and venomous propaganda against the Jang/Geo Group, which is recognised for its high standards of journalistic ethics and corporate practices not just within the country, but internationally,” a spokesman of the group said in a statement, adding that Imran Khan will be sued in a court of law, and he will have to seek a apology in the courts for his baseless defamation campaign against the Group.
Responding to the stream of old groundless allegations levelled by the cricketer-turned politician against the group that included alleged tax evasion, default on bank loan payments and running the media-led peace campaign ‘Aman ki Asha’ on foreign money, the spokesman challenged the PTI chairman to prove any one of them in court. “They are nothing, but a pack of lies aimed to tarnish the image of the group and its owner Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman. Such allegations are being levelled in an organised manner for the past nine months by the private channel ARY and its anchor Mubashir Lucman, but they have failed to respond to our court notice despite the passage of five months.”
The spokesman said that the world’s two renowned companies audit the external and internal accounts of all the companies of the Group and its shareholders. “We give top most priority to our tax issues. For any media group this is vital to keep its operations clean and above board to ensure its freedom and independence,” he said.
“This culture of transparency and honesty in our financial matters remains in line with the golden legacy of the group’s founder, the late Mir Khalil-ur-Rahman, who advised its shareholders and directors to keep their balance sheets and accounts clean.”
This, he said, remains vital for the free press so that it does not have to come under pressure by any government or powerful groups, which could try to exploit such weaknesses.
That’s the reason that the Group and its journalists managed to pursue independent journalism in line with the law and the Constitution both under the military or the civilian governments.
“We have always tried to report facts and tell the truth,” he said. “Our journalists have given extensive coverage to scandals and stories of corruption on all important institutions – from the Federal Board of Revenue to Customs and the banking circles.”
The spokesman said that the candid and bold journalism often created problems for the Group and resulted in its victimisation under the previous PPP rule, the Pervez Musharraf era as well as during Nawaz Sharif’s second stint in power.
“We challenge Imran Khan and the government to come and investigate all our accounts and financial matters and find any wrongdoing,” he said. “We already invited Imran Khan and his team to form a committee to investigate these charges.”
The spokesman said that Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman is the 24th highest tax payer in Pakistan. But strangely his name has been omitted from the list of tax-payers in the recently published tax directory.
“All the companies of the Group annually contribute millions and billions in taxes to the national exchequer,” he said. “Imran Khan has levelled a baseless allegation that we have not paid taxes… our taxes are up-to-date,” he said.
The spokesman said that the tax authorities and the companies do have disputes, but they keep on resolving in line with the rules and regulations.
He said that the disputed amount with the tax authorities is in peanuts. During the previous PPP government and the last two years of Musharraf era, the Group was victimised on the tax issues.
The officials affiliated with the previous two governments and the FBR stand witness the way the Group was hounded and victimised.
If Imran Khan bothers to investigate, he will find how other channels were given incentives and concessions by these two previous governments.
Explaining the dispute over sales tax, the spokesman said that after the 18th Amendment under the previous PPP rule, this was handed over to the provincial governments.
The provincial Revenue Board had not received papers from the FBR which created the problem. Even today this problem exists between the Revenue Board and the FBR.
Some Pemra and government officials exploited this situation and issued the Group a tax notice as part of the well planned conspiracy. Even that dispute has been settled, he added.
The spokesman said that the Jang/Geo Group suffered a lot under the previous PPP and the last two years of Musharraf rule because of its independent and candid policy.
“We suffered a loss of billions of rupees in lost revenues as these governments curtailed our advertisements. In the same way, the cable operators were pressured to disrupt or shutdown our transmissions.”
He said despite efforts, the past governments failed to open any tax evasion or bank loan default cases against the Group.
“This is wrong to say that the Jang/Geo Group is powerful… had we been powerful, we would not have at least allowed the governments to curtail our ads and block our transmission.”
Coming to the issue the National Bank loan, the spokesman said that companies often have disputes about the payment schedule, but that too has been resolved during the last days of the previous PPP government.
The remaining issues have been settled now after both parties filed lawsuits against one another cases against each other, the spokesman said, rejecting Imran’s claim that the Group did not pay even after restructuring of loan.
The spokesman challenged all the media to check this fact with the National Bank.
He said that Imran Khan also twisted facts about the Mir Khalil-ur-Rahman Foundation that it illegally received funds from a foreign NGO DFID for its education campaign “Zara Sochiye.”
As in the past, Imran Khan again tried to create a false impression that illegal money was obtained from the US and Britain for this two-year project.
The MKRF is a trust and a separate identity and is run by an independent board of directors which comprises of renowned names that also include one of the frontline PTI leaders Asad Umer, he said.
Two top companies — Prize Water House Copper and KPMG – audit the accounts of MKRF and take care of its tax liabilities.
It is a legal project which was won after due process as done by all the other NGOs. Zara Sochiya’s ad campaign was run not just on the Jang group, but also on the state-run PTV and other private media houses, the spokesman said.
Even the federal and provincial governments, including Imran Khan’s own government in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa receives funds to run development projects, the spokesman said. Does this mean that it is all illegal money? The spokesman asked.
The spokesman also brushed aside the charges that the ‘Aman ki Asha’ campaign – aimed to promote peace between Pakistan and India – was funded by the US State Department.
“It is a complete lie. The entire campaign was financed by the Jang/Geo Group,” the spokesman said. In fact, the cost of the campaign is very little as advertisements are carried by the Group’s own media outlets.”
He said that the Jang/Geo Group believes in presenting diverse shades of opinion, which is reflected in its team of journalists. There is both pro- and anti-US content carried in our newspapers and programmes aired on the news channels, he said.
In fact because of the conditions the anti-US content is much more than the pro-US content, he said.
Similarly, the Group carried views of both for and against Taliban talks. In fact, the number of supportive articles on talks remained far greater than the ones in the opposition.
The spokesman said that propaganda against the Group was part of a well thought-out strategy being carried out for past nine months. It is being carried out by the ARY and Mubashir Luqman at the behest of a powerful section of the establishment, which wants to damage the Group and its owner.
After the attack on Geo anchorperson Hamid Mir, these attacks have intensified. As part of the plan now only the Group is being targeted and Hamid Mir is no more the target, he added.
Who has conspired to damage the Jang/Geo Group? This conspiracy will soon be resolved, he added.
Coming to the allegation that it was the Jang/Geo Group which labelled Imran Khan as Taliban Khan, the spokesman said the term was first used by a website LUBP several years ago and not by the Jang/Geo Group.
“The term was also used by the PPP against Imran Khan, but we are still investigating which writer, individual anchor or guest used it in our paper or channel’s talk show.”
The spokesman said that the Jang/Geo Group suffered losses of over nine billion rupees for its commitment with the freedom of expression, but Imran Khan has the cheek to say that we can compromise our country for the sake of the money.
“If the Jang/Geo group cared about the money like the other media houses, we would not have suffered such a huge financial loss or witnessed the closure of our channel.
“Like other groups, we too would have supported each and every government and in return reaped financial benefits and expanded our businesses. But fortunately, there are no such allegations against our group.”
The spokesman expressed his dismay the way Imran Khan passed personal insulting remarks against the Group owner Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman, whom he repeatedly called “Pharaoh and a blackmailer.”
“We would like to know what blackmailing was done by Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman,” the spokesman asked. We dare Imran Khan to provide even one such evidence, he said.
“It seems that Imran Khan is nervous and is desperately trying to hide something, which he does not want to come in the open.
“That story was filed by our reporters, but it was not printed by our editors because it lacked evidence and the other version, which underlines our professionalism.”
Imran Khan must not stoop this low in his criticism and must maintain the common norms of decency and ethic, the spokesman said.
The spokesman said that Imran Khan is new in politics and lack experience. “He does not the culture of our Group and the professionalism of our editorial team.”
Regarding the allegation that former chief justice favoured the Group by awarding it the licence of the fifth channel, the spokesman said that it was the Sindh High Court which first ordered Pemra to issue this licence.
When Pemra obstructed, we went to the Supreme Court where the decision came in the Group’s favour, he said.
The spokesman said that the Group applied for seven television licences within the first hundred days according to the Pemra laws. “But the regulatory authority changed the rules once we went to court… this was done by the previous government to prevent our expansion.”
We had applied under the old rule and therefore won the case, he said. By doing this, we have opened the path for the entire media industry. But it is sad that some of the media houses are targeting us without verifying facts and out of sheer jealousy, he added.
Coming to the allegation levelled by Imran Khan regarding awarding of the transmission rights of a cricket series, the spokesman said the Group managed to get them as it out-bid its rivals.
The entire process of awarding these rights was carried out in a fair and transparent manner. Ilyas Maani, the Chairman of the audit committee, is a close aide of Imran Khan. Under the same process, these rights were also given to an Indian channel – Ten Sports —- but Imran Khan never raises any objections, he said.
The spokesman said Imran is deliberately hiding facts. The world over, the government channels often do not participate in the bidding process as was the case with the PTV, which did not participate in the bidding.
“In the past too, Geo out-bid the PTV twice and the state-run channel had to buy transmission rights from us.”
The spokesman also termed Imran Khan’s allegation about Voice of America (VoA) as totally untrue. This was a commercial deal in accordance with rules. The VoA programme was also aired on Express and Aaj channels. The Express channel also aired BBC programme.
About Imran Khan’s charge that Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman was behind airing ISI chief’s name on Geo, the spokesman said Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman is not directly involved in Geo, nor does he hold any editorial office in Geo. Neither he is chief executive nor director of Geo, he said.
About the allegation that Jang Group has to pay Rs2 billion to Pemra, the spokesman said it is a lie. He said whole the media industry owed money to Pemra. Pakistan Broadcasters Association had already moved court in this regard.
The spokesman said it has been already clarified several times that Geo had not accused any institution. The Geo/Jang Group respects all the national institutions, he asserted. The spokesman said the Jang Group’s replies to allegations against it have been already published many a time in newspapers and are also present on social media.
The spokesman vowed to take the matter to the court. Imran Khan will end up being embarrassed and will have to apologise for these allegations and running this defamation campaign. We will take him to the court both in Pakistan and Britain, he said.