Media played up issue, allege lawmakers -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

Media played up issue, allege lawmakers

By: Amir Wasim

ISLAMABAD: In a rare display of unity, senators from treasury and opposition benches decried on Thursday the media’s “irresponsible” attitude for what they called over projecting a “baseless and false report” accusing parliamentarians of tax evasion.

After severe criticism from all sides on the report, “Representation Without Taxation” which as released by two NGOs on Wednesday and which was widely covered by all TV channels and the print media, the Senate’s Deputy Chairman Sabir Baloch referred the matter to the finance committee of the house.

The report, launched by the Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives and the Centre for Investigative Reporting Pakistan, had alleged that a majority of parliamentarians and political figures, including President Asif Ali Zardari, Deputy Prime Minister Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi and 34 federal ministers, had not filed their tax returns with the Federal Board of Revenue implying that they had not paid any income tax during 2011.

The senators in their speeches blasted the media, particularly TV channels, for running the story throughout the day showing pictures of the parliamentarians and declaring them “tax thieves”.

The anti-media sentiments were so high in the house that even the deputy chairman, Sabir Baloch, could not hold himself and remarked: “I know how several TV channel owners want to get their taxes waived. And when they fail to get the favour, they start character assassination campaign.” The media, he said, had acted “irresponsibly” and “it should prepare a code of conduct for itself”.

The harshest speech came from Opposition Leader Senator Ishaq Dar of the PML-N, who termed the report “a part of a scheme to malign politicians”. He said it was “shameful” that the media used the term “tax thieves” for all parliamentarians without carrying out verification. “It appears that the person who has prepared this report is on someone’s payroll,” he alleged, without elaborating.

Senator Dar clarified that the report had mentioned that he had paid a tax of Rs32,000 whereas he had paid over Rs200,000 as income tax. He also held the Federal Board of Revenue responsible for the situation, saying the FBR chairman should be asked as to how such secret and personal information was leaked and who had provided the “wrong data”.

While most of the senators in their speeches only castigated the media, Afrasiab Khattak of the Awami National Party stressed the need for a strong defamation laws. He claimed that media was very responsible in European and other countries because they had strict defamation laws. He said the working journalists should not be blamed since they were also facing “exploitation” at the hands of their owners.

PPP leader Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan asked the deputy chairman to set up a special committee which should summon all media owners to present details of their taxes.

The PML-Q’s Kamil Ali Agha termed the report “regrettable and unacceptable”.

The President’s spokesman, Senator Farhatullah Babar, claimed the report had wrongly mentioned the name of President Asif Ali Zardari as a tax evader, claiming he had filed his income tax returns with the FBR despite having exemption.

Earlier, PML-Q President Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain showed copies of his tax returns filed by him and his family members. Chaudhry Shujaat said he had paid Rs5,87,594 as income tax whereas Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi and Chaudhry Wajahat Hussain had paid Rs1,263,400 and Rs380,991 as income tax, respectively.