Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Information and Broadcasting Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan on Friday said it was unfair to term the arrest of Jang Group's Editor-in-Chief Mir Shakilur Rahman a part of revenge tactics by the government for his media house's stance.
On Thursday, Rahman had been arrested by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) when he appeared before the anti-graft watchdog in a case relating to the 34-year-old purchase of a 54-kanal land he allegedly acquired “illegally” in the tenure of then-chief minister of Punjab, Nawaz Sharif.
Today, an accountability court in Lahore gave the bureau 12-day physical remand of Rahman.
To call this "revenge" or to say this was carried out according to the government's wishes is unfair, and unjust, Awan said, adding that every person had the right to prove their innocence in the face of allegations leveled against them.
Addressing a press conference in Islamabad, Awan said: "Allegations are made every day, but after these allegations are made, evidence is produced in the court, and both sides are given the chance to present evidence supporting their stance; the decision then made by the court is just."
Remarking that NAB was a free and independent institution, Awan said "truth will prevail" in this case.
The PM's aide said Prime Minister Imran Khan, since coming into power, had worked towards strengthening institutions that were previously in a bad state.
"Under the PM's governance, institutions are working freely. However, after yesterday's arrest, to continuously say the government has killed press freedom [...] to connect these two things, and to use a watchdog to push an agenda against the government goes against the principles of journalism.
"We expect NAB to present evidence in the court on the basis of which it arrested Rahman so that this move can be justified in the eyes of the law. In the same way, we expect Rahman — and the analysts/journalists from his media house — to submit evidence to the court attesting to his innocence instead of attacking the government. The courts are free and independent.
"Do the rest of the people arrested by NAB have the right to have discussions on media channels? Or have debates about the case, and pressurise investigation officers," Awan questioned.
She maintained that the government did not comment on the situation earlier, because they did not want to get involved. “However, one media house continuously targeted the prime minister and government institutions, conducting a trial on TV screens.”
“Dispel this perception […] you are a media house, what enmity could the government have with you,” she asked. “You are not a political entity […] you are not our political enemy. You are an independent [media] house and we understand that remaining that way is your strength.”
Commenting on previous remarks made by Imran about Rahman, the PM’s aide said that the premier made those remarks after the Jang Group's editor-in-chief had stated that the media house was not his only means of income.
“You saw the video of this on channels. We are seeing him in two roles; one as the head of a media house, and the second as a businessman. The allegations against him are not about him as the head of a media house.
“The case that he has been arrested in is a property case. He was arrested after failing to satisfy NAB with his answers to the questionnaires provided.
“I am not NAB’s spokesperson, and if I was I would have come after yesterday’s arrest to justify it,” she said.
She added that the only reason for today’s press conference was that the government was being painted in an unfair light.
“If that media house had played their independent role, then the government would have not felt the need to come and clarify their position," she said.
Cable operators told to shut down broadcast: Geo
Meanwhile, Jang Group has alleged that as soon as Awan's press conference ended, cable operators were directed to block the Geo News broadcast or to push it down further in the list of channels by the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra).
In an official statement, Jang Group President Imran Aslam was quoted as saying: "Now it's clear, the plot is not a plot but a larger canvas."
He stated that pushing the broadcast further down the list of channels would only be done by those who have something to hide.
The statement alleged that the current government has also ordered three other channels to be illegally shut down or to be pushed back to the end of list.
Many international human rights groups and media watchdogs have commented that media freedom and tolerance in Pakistan has "reduced' during the PTI government, the statement said.
It added that the government had also temporarily suspended advertisements for four other news channels as well as trying to create one-sided media tribunals.