PR Karachi - The All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS) has strongly condemned the sales tax imposed by the Sindh government on newspaper advertisements, that had been explicitly excluded by them in 2013.

APNS President Hameed Haroon and Secretary General Sarmad Ali have deplored issuance of notification on June 27, one day after passing of Sindh budget, by which the Sindh government has reversed its 2013 decision of not levying a sales tax regime on advertisements appearing in newspapers.

The APNS leadership stated, “The Sindh government has violated its earlier decision without any prior consultation or dialogue with stakeholders. Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah had given us repeated assurances that all matters relating to a sales tax for services to and by newspapers would be resolved amicably. Strangely, the proposal to impose the sales tax was not included in Sindh government budget proposals. The Sindh Revenue Board has instead unilaterally decided to impose the new tax, a clear indication that it does not respect its own annual budget, nor does it believe in facilitating conditions necessary for survival of a free press and its journalists in Sindh.”

“The situation is alarming now. The Sindh government has completely failed to clear a huge, subsidised backlog of advertising dues worth over Rs1 billion, several bills going back to as early as 2010. They repeatedly state that many of the advertising records have been destroyed by a mysterious fire in the Sindh Information Department, and that the Sindh Chief Minister’s Inspection Team is dilly-dallying on the verification process on past bills, despite a third-party audit having largely cleared such bills. In this way, the Sindh Government has contrived to usurp the financial rights of newspapers, and to inflict colossal damage upon those national newspapers and periodicals headquartered in Sindh, as well as the regional media located in the province.”

“We ask this question from the Sindh government: is it fair and just that the government acquiesces in the destruction of the newspaper industry in the province of Sindh? Is it acceptable that they attempt to initiate an exodus of print media group headquarters away from Karachi to other provinces, and to stifle the regional, including Sindhi language, print media? Is this a rational policy that is in consonant with the vows made by Sindh legislators to protect the press under the Constitution of Pakistan? Or have we simply become collateral damage to sustain the ill-thought decisions of the Sindh government?, says the press release.

The APNS urges PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah to withdraw this draconian measure and to immediately begin payments of advertising dues to the print media in Sindh. Otherwise we will be forced to conclude that the Sindh government is no friend of the free press, and to consider alternative measures for our survival.