The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) today called on the Pakistan government to review its decision to maintain amendments to Pakistan’s media laws after the lifting of emergency rule and has called for a new dialogue between journalists and authorities to resolve concerns over media accountability.
The IFJ is concerned that amendments made to Pakistan’s media laws under emergency rule are considered repressive. They have stayed in place despite the lifting of emergency powers on December 15. The amended laws – the Press, Newspapers, News Agencies and Books Registration (Amendment) Ordinance, 2007, and the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Third Amendment) Ordinance, 2007 ¬– ban live coverage of events and news related to upcoming elections.
The amendments were issued on November 3 after promulgation of the emergency decrees by President Pervez Musharraf. Two major television networks, GEO-Television and Royal TV, have not been permitted to return to air while many media outlets have bowed to pressure to agree to a Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) code of conduct, which requires an agreement to self-censorship.
The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), an IFJ affiliate, was told by the caretaker Information Minister, Nisar A. Memon, in a meeting this week that the government was looking at deleting objectionable clauses in the print-media ordinance. Mr Memon asked the PFUJ to submit a working paper in relation to the more vigorously applied PEMRA ordinance.
“It is time for an honest and open dialogue with media and journalists to resolve problems,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. “But trying to muzzle journalists and media in the lead-up to the elections is a serious blow to democratic principles. We also fear that these restrictions will become entrenched in law and remain in place after the elections.”
Under the restrictions media are barred from publishing or broadcasting a range of material considered offensive or contrary to the national interest, including reports deemed to defame or ridicule the administration and the army. PEMRA has warned media houses that severe penalties apply if broadcasters air live reports about the elections or topics that are considered to breach the PEMRA ordinance, including incidents of violence and conflict, video footage of alleged militants, or programmes deemed to incite violence.
The IFJ has fully supported PFUJ’s calls to political parties to sign a declaration that they will not endorse any move to pass anti-media laws after the elections.
In the meeting with Mr Memon this week, the PFUJ delegation also demanded that authorities quash a formal complaint issued against the PFUJ and its affiliate, the Rawalpindi-Islamabad Union of Journalists (RIUJ); restore GEO TV to the airwaves; reverse the withholding of government advertising in Jang newspaper; and implement the Seventh Wage Award for newspapers employees.
Mr Memon responded that the government was negotiating with GEO’s management about the resumption of its broadcasting rights and said the issue would be resolved soon. He added that Justice (retd) Mansoor had been appointed chairman of the Implementation Tribunal for Newspaper Employees (ITNE) and was directed to work for early implementation of the Wage Award. The Minister asked the PFUJ to call off its protest rallies as a confidence-building measure. The PFUJ gave no commitment in this regard.
For further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific on +61 2 9333 0919 or in Brussels on +32 2 235 2200
The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 120 countries