The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is deeply disturbed by the trend of increasing restraints on the functioning of the media in Pakistan.
The most recent manifestation of what is clearly a rising trend in intolerance of media freedom, comes in the form of a prohibition of live coverage of events involving the suspended chief justice of Pakistan, Mr Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry.
Within two days of the new curbs being decreed, two major TV channels – Aaj TV and Geo TV - were blacked out; the former almost nationwide and the latter in the cities of Lahore and Islamabad.
“With the political crisis involving Mr Chaudhry and the Pakistan army chief and president, General Pervez Musharraf, proving intractable, the latest edict by the Federal Government of Pakistan is a classic instance of blaming the messenger,” said IFJ Asia-Pacific Director, Jacqueline Park.
The first indication that the government intended to use the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) to restrain the live coverage of certain events, came from a statement by the Pakistan Information Minister, Mr Mohammad Ali Durrani.
This explicit statement of intent came a day after President Musharraf’s address to a military garrison in the town of Jehlum, when he suggested that the PEMRA’s powers of enforcement could be used to restrain what he called “unbalanced reporting and presentation”.
The IFJ has been informed that the Pakistan Government had sought on May 12, to stop the live coverage of a rally in Karachi involving Mr Chaudhry, but failed.
The IFJ, a global body representing over 500,000 journalists, is deeply disturbed that there has been no effort since that day of mayhem on the streets of Karachi, to bring to book those responsible for an outrageous attack on the offices of Aaj TV, the first news channel to report that armed vigilantes belonging to the Mottahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) – a political party aligned with President Musharraf – were responsible for much of the violence.
The IFJ is also alarmed at reports that another quasi-political body, the Mohajir Rabita Council (MRC) has since released a list of twelve journalists, who were identified as ethnic and linguistic “chauvinists” and “enemies”.
This list includes some senior office-bearers of IFJ affiliate, the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ).
The subsequent discovery of bullets wrapped in brown paper envelopes in the cars of three Karachi journalists, of whom two had been named in the MRC list, has inspired terror within Pakistan’s media community.
The IFJ fully endorses and supports the PFUJ’s proposed campaign to build up public awareness of the inherent dangers in the situation.
It urges the Pakistan government to explicitly distance itself from these coercive methods.
It calls upon President Musharraf to take the initiative to rebuild trust, so that the media in Pakistan is at liberty to pursue its calling with the appropriate sense of commitment and purpose.
For further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific on +61 2 9333 0919
The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 115 countries