Press freedom in Pakistan requires the revocation of two anti-press freedom ordinances implemented by President Pervez Musharraf’s caretaker government since emergency rule was declared on November 3, 2007 and an independent journalist-designed code of ethics, according to the report Emergency in Pakistan: Crisis Mission Rapid Assessment.
The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the South Asia Media Solidarity Network (SAMSN) worked with its local affiliate and leading journalists’ organisation in Pakistan, the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) to organise an emergency mission in support of Pakistan’s media community from November 19 to 22, 2007 after the status of media freedom in the country began deteriorating significantly. The report released today outlines the key findings of the mission, supported by the Foundation Open Society Institute (Zug).
Led by esteemed journalist and senior editor in Nepal Kanak Mani Dixit, representative from Reporters Sans Frontieres Iqbal Khattak and PFUJ President Huma Ali, the mission team inquired into the threat imposed on the media under emergency rule with a series of discussions in Islamabad, Karachi and Lahore with journalists, media owners, civil society representatives and government officials.
During this time, as many as 60 television channels and a number of radio stations throughout Pakistan were ordered to end transmissions by the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) under its increased directional powers. Among the restricted broadcasters were the networks GEO TV and Ary One. A live audio stream of GEO TV’s Urdu news channel running through satellite radio and broadband internet connections from Dubai was also shut down under pressure from the Pakistan caretaker government.
On November 20, delegates from journalists’ associations, media institutions, civil society and diplomatic missions joined a number of local senior journalists at a round table conference in Islamabad in signing the Islamabad Declaration. The declaration condemned President Musharraf’s autocratic rule and muzzling of the media and pledged to continue the fight for press freedom and the people’s right to know in Pakistan. While the meeting was considering this declaration, authorities were arresting a reported 160-180 journalists at a peaceful protest in Karachi.
Recommendations from the mission focus on the reinstatement of the independence of the media to provide fair and balanced reporting of the crisis in Pakistan, the implementation of the Seventh Wage Award to strengthen the already improving relationship between journalists and media owners during the emergency crackdown and a greater assurance of safety and security for all journalists in conducting their work.
Since the conclusion of the mission, however, several incidents involving journalists and media organisations indicate the Pakistan government is yet to comply with the demands of the PFUJ and the international press freedom community.
Police complaints were lodged against office-holders of the PFUJ and its local partner the Rawalpindi-Islamabad Union of Journalists (RIUJ), threatening criminal action and a court ruling against petitions challenging the ongoing ban of GEO TV. Actions such as these are considered by the IFJ as attempts to weaken the strength and courage of the journalists in pursuit of their professional rights and duties. A letter issued by PEMRA in mid-December banning television channels from airing live reports about the 2008 national elections or any topic deemed to be in breach of the amended PEMRA Ordinance, including the assassination of Pakistan People’s Party leader Benazir Bhutto on December 27 posed a serious threat to the possibility of democratic and critical coverage of the deteriorating political stability in the country.
Through the report, the IFJ condemns the Musharraf regime’s clampdown on the media in Pakistan and calls for the mission’s recommendations to be implemented immediately. The IFJ applauds the courage and persistence of the PFUJ in its unfailing commitment to fighting for the rights of all journalists and ensuring a free and independent media at such a crucial time for Pakistan.
To view Emergency in Pakistan: Crisis Mission Rapid Assessment click here.
To view the Islamabad Declaration click here.
For further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific on +61 2 9333 0919
The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 120 countries