SHC issues notices to provincial authorities on plea against non-payment of print media dues
Karachi: The Sindh High Court (SHC) on Thursday issued notices to the provincial advocate general, the chief secretary and the secretary of information department on a petition against non-payment of the government advertisements dues to the print media since 2005-06.
A two-judge bench, comprising Justices Muhammad Ali Mazhar and Agha Faisal, asked the AG Sindh to submit comments on behalf of the respondents and adjourned the hearing till May 30.
The petition was filed by the Council of Pakistan Newspapers Editors (CPNE) through its secretary general Dr Abdul Jabbar Khattak against the provincial government for not clearing advertisement bills of its member newspapers lying outstanding since 2005-06.
Citing the Sindh government through the chief secretary and information and archives department through its secretary as respondents, the petitioner submitted through its counsel Rafiq Kalwar that the petitioner had been aggrieved by the nonfeasance and inaction of the respondents with regard to the advertisement bills of the members of the CPNE of last several years, which was causing serious economic crunch and turmoil in the newspaper industry resulting in collapse of the newspaper industry and violation of fundamental rights of workers/employees of the newspapers ie member organisations of the petitioner.
It was submitted that the provincial government had been availing the advertisements services from the newspapers, which were members of the CPNE, through its ministry of information and archives, but they had failed to pay the outstanding advertisement dues of the newspapers of last many years, either directly or through the advertisement agencies.
The respondents despite availing the advertisements from the petitioner’s member organisations 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 members have been running from pillar to post 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 outstanding advertisement dues, liabilities lying outstanding against the provincial authorities have been accruing and has piled up in billions of rupees.
He submitted that due to non-payment of the bills, the final toll of the crunch being faced by the newspapers/member of the petitioner is resulting in job loss of its employees. The petitioner organisation and other related organisation of the media industry appealed to the respective governments and to the Chief Justice of Pakistan to take notice of the aggravating crisis in the newspaper and other media segments of the industry.
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 employees, and in October 2018 the then Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar chaired a meeting with the representatives of the federal and provincial governments and the media houses during which the provincial governments’ representatives conceded that the outstanding liabilities of the media houses will be paid within four weeks.
Mr Kalwar submitted that having sufficient funds available to clear the dues of the media houses, the Sindh finance 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 CJP, adding that the CM had asked the information department to carry out the verification of the bills through qualified and independent auditors.
He further submitted that auditors appointed for the purpose in accordance with Sindh Public Procurement Rules, 2010 had reportedly verified the media houses’ bills and submitted their report to the government.
However, despite the verification and inspection of the bills by different departments of the Sindh government and the independent auditors, the said summary was being thrown from one department to another and the dues were still outstanding.
It is further submitted that despite the hardships and difficulties being faced by the media houses, the same are holding tight to their pledge of not laying off the employees due to non-payment of dues by the respective governments, which was becoming difficult for the media houses due to constant delay in payment of dues.
The court was pleaded to declare that the non-payment of the outstanding advertisement bills of members of the petitioner since past several years by the provincial government authorities was illegal, unlawful 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, employees, journalists of the newspapers.
Furthermore, a direction was sought for the Sindh government authorities to fully clear and satisfy the advertisement dues and bills of the CPNE members, preferably before the lapse of the current fiscal year, or, with shortest possible time as prescribed at the discretion of the court.
The court 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 information department for the purpose of clearance of dues to the newspapers/CPNE members, at the end of current fiscal year and direct them to carry forward the said reserve funds for the said purpose to the next fiscal year.