The Sindh High Court has ordered the Sindh Information Department to verify whether there are government employees working as journalists in Shaheed Benazirabad district. The Hyderabad circuit bench directed the department on Wednesday to conduct hearing of all 175 media workers whose names are mentioned in the list submitted by the district's deputy commissioner.
"If not satisfied with their clarification so presented, cancel their accreditation cards forthwith. The bench gave 30 days to the department to complete the exercise by first issuing notices to all those 175 individuals and later conducted an impartial hearing.
"In case any violation became apparent, the department will be at liberty to refer the matter to the concerned department to take action against those individuals as per the law."
The petitioner maintained through his counsel, Advocate Khadim Hussain Soomro, that he is a working journalist in Shaheed Benazirabad district and a member of the local press club. He alleged that the club is dominated by those media workers who were actually public servants.
He held the Sindh Information Department responsible for issuing accreditation cards to these allegedly fake journalists and argued that such accreditation helped them masquerade as journalists.
The court observed that the relevant law clearly states that a government servant cannot be issued the card.
The department maintained that the respondents lied while trying to acquire the cards by hiding the information that they were government employees.
At this, the bench noted that the department, without proper verification of the card's applicants, issued the same, which enabled those public sector employees to join the press club as its member.
The petitioner's counsel held that while such an act showed mala fide intent of the respondent media workers, it has also exposed the slackness of the department.
Advocate Ayaz Hussain Tunio, who represented the respondent journalists, claimed that the individuals in question are no longer in the government service. He also argued that the petitioner should first lodge a complaint with the Press Council of Pakistan. "My clients don't draw any monetary benefits out of their engagement as journalists and some of the individuals have actually been retired," Tunio claimed.
The bench, however, pointed out that both the department and the deputy commissioner have identified public servants who are working in the media profession. In his August 23, 2019, letter the DC quoted an intelligence bureau's correspondence which had traced 77 government employees in Benazirabad who were working in the media.
The district accounts officer had also submitted salary slips of 34 such employees who were part of the media. The remaining were drawing salaries directly from their respective departments. The DC had proposed action against such journalists.
The department referred to Clauses 22 and 23 of the Civil Servants Conduct Rules which bars public sector employees from working in the media simultaneously. The department also acknowledged that some of the respondents who were government servants have been issued the accreditation cards.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 7th, 2021.