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Peshawar: Local Newspaper Closure Sparks Outcry

As per the sources, the complexities of the situation extend beyond the newspaper itself, touching on broader political dynamics.

by TNN Editor - 28 Aug, 2023 1515

Salman Yousafzai

"I haven't received my salary for the past three months. I was hopeful that this month might bring some relief, but little did I know that receiving a salary would become an elusive goal. Instead, the means to provide lawful sustenance for our children would be taken away from us."

Muhammad Kaleem, a 30-year-old journalist, has dedicated a decade of his life to reporting in Peshawar. Previously associated with the local newspaper 'Roznama (daily) Surkhab', he now grapples with an uncertain future for himself and his children, following the closure of the 30-year-old daily Surkhab by the Information Department of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

On August 3rd of this year, the Information Department of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa issued a notification accusing the management of the daily Surkhab of news plagiarism, deeming it a breach of Section 19. Subsequently, the Director General of Information and Public Relations revoked the newspaper's declaration.

Kaleem is currently navigating a challenging phase. Amidst familial responsibilities, expenses for his four children's education, and rampant inflation, he finds himself caught in a precarious situation. Media organizations across Pakistan, including Peshawar, are grappling with dire circumstances, making the prospect of securing new employment seem nothing short of miraculous.

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He highlights that six individuals, including himself, who were employed by the newspaper are now left jobless. This group comprises a photographer, three editors, and two reporters. Kaleem contends that the caretaker provincial government's decision to shut down the newspaper is motivated by political vendetta. He asserts that the newspaper's closure is a result of leveling copy-paste allegations against it, citing its association with Liaqat Yousafzai, brother of former provincial minister Shaukat Yousafzai.

Liaquat Yousafzai, the newspaper's proprietor, counters this claim: "This newspaper isn't connected to former provincial minister Shaukat Yousafzai. I've been the editor of this newspaper for the past 13 years and am well-acquainted with journalistic ethics. Surkhab maintains its own editorial desk and reporters whose duty is to gather and publish news."

Meanwhile, following the cessation of the newspaper, former provincial minister Shaukat Yousafzai shared his perspective with the media: "My brother is being singled out as an act of political vengeance. The newspaper's only crime is having my brother as its chief editor."

Shaukat Yousafzai also stated that the caretaker government suspended government advertisements five months ago, leading to the non-payment of employee salaries.

Mohammad Kaleem earnestly appeals to the caretaker provincial government to refrain from using Surkhab as a pawn in political vendettas. He implores them to reinstate the newspaper's declaration, taking into consideration the plight of the employees and their potential financial hardships.

Defiant Stand: Journalists Unite Against Newspaper Closure'

In response to the closure of the daily Surkhab, journalists rallied together under the banner of the Khyber Union of Journalists on August 4, 2023. The protest garnered significant participation, drawing journalists from across the spectrum, including prominent figures from the Khyber Union of Journalists and the Peshawar Press Club. Demonstrators brandished placards adorned with scathing slogans directed at the provincial government, condemning the newspaper's closure and the annulment of its declaration.

Former President of the Peshawar Press Club, M. Riaz, took center stage to address the impassioned crowd. He lamented the current state of the media industry, underscoring the closure of a newspaper and the subsequent unemployment of numerous dedicated journalists as a sorrowful reality.

Arshad Aziz Malik, the President of the Peshawar Press Club, delivered a resounding message: the actions of this caretaker provincial government, he asserted, exceed the bounds even set by dictatorships. He pledged that journalists would vehemently resist the newspaper's closure, vociferously opposing the decision through every available platform. He emphasized, "We are prepared to take this battle to court, if necessary. The welfare of newspaper employees is of paramount importance to us. We will not stand by and let them become jobless."

Nasir Hussain, President of the Khyber Union of Journalists, declared August 3 as a somber day in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa's journalistic history. He castigated the closure of a newspaper not merely as an act of political vendetta, but as an unwarranted suppression that extended to the nullification of its declaration.

Hussain implored the provincial government to abstain from snuffing out the voices of activist journalists under the pretext of political retribution. He issued a demand for an immediate retraction of the decision to shut down the newspaper, warning that the scope of the protest would expand if action was not taken promptly.

KP Information Department's Stance

In stark contrast to the rallying journalists, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Information Department Secretary Mukhtiar Khan offered a measured response, stating, "We have acted in accordance with the law." He underlined that any institution failing to adhere to the regulations outlined by the Information and Broadcasting Department would face consequences.

Secretary Mukhtiar Khan revealed that despite claims of a circulation of approximately 60 thousand, Roznama Surkhab's actual distribution was notably fewer, with less than 251 copies in circulation. Moreover, a significant portion of the newspaper's content was found to be lifted from other publications, a blatant infringement of legal statutes.

Providing insight into Section 19 of the law, the Information Secretary clarified that the provision empowers regulatory bodies to take action against newspapers indulging in material replication from other sources. The Information Department had also issued a show cause notice to Roznama Surkhab. Regrettably, their response failed to meet the Department's expectations, precipitating the need for punitive action.

Secretary Khan confirmed that in addition to Roznama Surkhab, six more newspapers had been served show cause notices for suspected violations. However, he abstained from specifying the nature of these infractions.

Emphatically rejecting claims of political bias, Mukhtiar Khan stated, "This is not a political matter. The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Information Department functions as a governmental entity, operating strictly within the confines of the law." The Department's decision, he asserted, was firmly grounded in concrete evidence, thus warranting the rescission of the newspaper's declaration.

While contrasting viewpoints continue to shape the narrative, a search for alternative insights led to engagement with officials of the All Pakistan Newspaper Association. Regrettably, their stance remains undisclosed as no response has been forthcoming from their end. However, an individual associated with the All Pakistan Newspaper Society shared a perspective under the cover of anonymity.

This unidentified source contended that the newspaper in question faced closure due to motivations within the ruling echelons. The unfolding scenario, according to them, is intricately tied to the political affiliations of Shaukat Yousafzai, the brother of the newspaper's proprietor Liaquat Yousafzai, and the former provincial minister. Despite the circumstances, Shaukat Yousafzai has persisted in maintaining his association with the newspaper, rather than acquiescing to external pressures.

It's noteworthy that Shaukat Yousafzai presently resides in the United States, a fact that casts uncertainty over the prospect of reversing the decision to revoke the newspaper's declaration. According to this source, the complexities of the situation extend beyond the newspaper itself, touching on broader political dynamics.

The individual acknowledged that the cessation of the newspaper has repercussions, particularly for the working journalists who have been adversely impacted. In light of these concerns, he underscored the necessity for the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Information Department to reassess its decision. A plea resonated within his words: that an avenue be sought to extend opportunities to the newspaper's employees, affording them the chance to resume their work in the industry.