The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), which is currently leading an international crisis mission to Pakistan, has welcomed strengthening solidarity between media owners and working journalists who have united to protest the clampdown on the media since President Pervez Musharraf imposed emergency rule on 3 November.
The collaboration between media owners and working journalists comes as police in Karachi laid charges against four journalists in the wake of massive nationwide protests on Tuesday, 20 November.
The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), the All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS) and the Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors (CPNE) are due to meet in Karachi this afternoon to consider further joint actions, including a proposal that the press goes on strike and shuts down operations for 24 or 48 hours to protest at the Government’s actions.
“Momentum is building and we are very hopeful about the solidarity with news owners, who finally after many years are with us,” said PFUJ President Huma Ali said today. “We cannot fight against the state alone – and we are not alone.”
Leading the mission on behalf of the IFJ and the South Asia Media Solidarity Network (SAMSN), Kanak Dixit, a veteran journalist and defender of press freedom in Nepal, said the emerging positive relationship between media owners and journalists also has implications for issues related to wages and working conditions, as well as cross-media ownership.
“There seems to be agreement to overcome differences between a variety of media actors – including publishers, working journalists, editors and broadcasters – to unite to fight the state’s attempts to crush the media,” said Mr Dixit.
He added: “Both big media and smaller media are really feeling the pinch as the Government attempts to crush them by hitting at their revenue stream and taking off the air programs covering sports and entertainment, as well as news and analysis. Not only journalists, but tens of thousands of other workers in the media industry are affected, and they represent a large contingent of citizens.”
The mission delegation, which also includes Iqbal Khattak, of Reporters sans frontieres (Reporters Without Borders), led a round-table meeting in Islamabad on Tuesday that agreed on a Declaration calling on the President and the Government to restore freedom of expression in Pakistan and revoke all anti-media actions imposed since 3 November.
“We believe that President Pervez Musharraf has crossed all bounds in seeking to continue his autocratic rule by muzzling the voice of media, and pledge never to give up the fight for press freedom and the people’s right to know,” concluded the Declaration, which was agreed upon by about 70 people representing journalists, television and radio broadcasters, print media owners, civil society members, lawyers and Islamabad-based diplomats, following delivery of an IFJ-SAMSN statement. The mission team was further supported by the President of the Rawalpindi-Islamabad Union of Journalists, Afzal Butt, and the PFUJ’s Fauzia Shahid and C.R. Shamsi.
While the Islamabad meeting was under way, however, a big police contingent blocked the roads around the Karachi Press Club to prevent journalists marching to the Governor’s house. Baton-wielding police arrested a reported 160 journalists in Karachi, including the President of the Karachi Union of Journalists, Shamim-Ur-Rehman.
All the arrested journalists, including four who were charged with offences related to disturbing the peace, are reported to have been held for six to seven hours. They were released on Tuesday evening on the orders of the Governor of Sindh Province. Police are reported to have beaten some journalists and several people suffered injuries.
They were among the thousands of journalists and media workers who joined nation-wide protests against the imposition of emergency rule and curbs on print and electronic media, in response to a call for action by the PFUJ, supported by the IFJ and SAMSN.
The mission delegation met earlier with the caretaker Information Minister, Nisar A. Memon, who said he would hold meetings with broadcasters and print journalists next week to resolve the crisis.
“Our presence in Pakistan shows how much the international community is concerned about the state of press freedom here,” Mr Dixit told the Minister.
Mission delegates also joined Tuesday’s protest rally in Islamabad organised by the PFUJ. Mr Dixit addressed the protesters on behalf of the IFJ and SAMSN, stating: “There is a time when journalists have to act as citizens, and the time in Pakistan is now. Journalists and other members of civil society should keep the flame of freedom burning.”
The three-day IFJ mission is in Lahore today, where a press conference will be held to announce the Islamabad Declaration. It will meet senior members of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and senior editors to discuss the challenges faced by the media in Pakistan.
For further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific on +61 2 9333 0919
The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 120 countries