As if the state of freedom of speech was not already vulnerable, now the Sindh government has made a highly disappointing decision which severely affects the state of journalism today. The Sindh government has imposed 3 per cent sales tax on the advertisements in newspapers and periodicals from July 1, 2019. According to a notification issued by Sindh Revenue Board (SRB), the Sindh government has amended the rule 34 of Sindh Sales Tax on Services Rules, 2011 and added advertisements in newspapers and periodicals to the rule to impose a 3 per cent sales tax on services.

This has been condemned by the All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS) who have contended that the levy of sales tax on advertisements in newspapers is in conflict with the 2013 decision of the Sindh government to exclude advertisements appearing in newspapers from the sales tax regime. The decision can only be described as unexpected and unilateral, considering the Sindh government has championed an independent media and Sindh Chief Minister, Syed Murad Ali Shah, had promised that all matters relating to a sales tax for services to and by newspapers would be resolved amicably.

The imposition of this tax is a violation of the financial rights of a newspaper. An independent press is highly necessary for a democratic and accountable society- by restricting the right of the media to earn revenue in order to stay independent is an attack on a free and fair press. Already the state of journalism in the country has been highly volatile- media houses have had to deal with increasing cuts in the funds allotted by the information ministry, and long delays of payment of advertisement dues. This is doubly disappointing that Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) has made this illegal decision, considering Bilawal Bhutto has always been an advocate for media rights.

We hope this decision is reversed immediately.