Black Day in Pakistan as Government Bargains on Air Time


Journalists across Pakistan marked today as a Black Day for the country’s media, led by the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), in protest at the Government’s failure to meet the PFUJ’s deadline for a withdrawal of anti-media ordinances issued by President Pervez Musharraf at the weekend.

Anchors on Pakistan television channels that are able to circumvent the regulations by broadcasting via satellite wore black armbands while journalists’ organisations hoisted black flags at press clubs and continued to boycott official functions.

Many media owners also condemned the Government for allowing four small broadcasters to reinstate their domestic transmissions in exchange for agreeing to comply with the ordinances, said the PFUJ, an affiliate of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ).

The regulations outlaw publication or broadcast of material considered to be offensive or contrary to the national interest, including live broadcasts of incidents of violence and conflict, video footage of alleged militants, and programs deemed to incite violence. Breaches can be punished with jail sentences and fines of up to 10 million rupees.

At a meeting with representatives of the PFUJ and the Rawalpindi-Islamabad Union of Journalists (RIUJ) on Thursday afternoon, Pakistan’s Information Minister, Muhammed Ali Durrani, said all private broadcasters would be permitted to return to air soon.

The PFUJ’s Secretary-General, Mazhar Abbas, said the reinstatement of some broadcasts was an attempt by the Government to fracture unity among journalists and free speech advocates, but the attempt would fail.

“They are intentionally forgetting the mainstream channels and bargaining individually with the smaller channels who want to get air time now that everyone else is shut off,” Mr Abbas said.

Meanwhile, The News, an English language daily, appeared on the streets this morning with front and back-page advertisements carrying statements by journalists from GEO TV calling on President Musharraf to rescind the ordinances.

“Mr President, the blacking out of television channels has created a sense of insecurity in this fast growing industry. In GEO’s case, our sports channel, our news channels and even our entertainment channel have been forced to fade to black,” the front-page statement said.

On the back page, the headline “Who are they playing?” lamented the fact that the nation’s millions of cricket fans were denied broadcasts of the much anticipated one-day international cricket Test series between Pakistan and India.

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The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 115 countries