Musharraf Backs IFJ Calls for Change as Journalists Demand a Fresh Start for Media in Pakistan

President Pervez Musharraf has supported efforts to improve the independence of media in Pakistan. In a meeting with a delegation of the International Federation of Journalists today he supported a new national dialogue to ease a political confrontation between independent journalists and government.

Musharraf accused some of his media critics of “telling lies” but agreed that a new dialogue involving the authorities, media, civil society and journalists was necessary. “Independent media are vital for democracy,” said the President. “I am a disappointed man with the media but I agree this is the time that, if the media is to continue on a path of independence and responsibility, it will be good for Pakistan.”

The IFJ and its affiliate, the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), have proposed a national debate on the need for a fresh start for media and democracy in the country. The IFJ mission presented the plan to President Musharraf at their meeting with him in Rawalpindi today.

The plan was unanimously endorsed later at a meeting in Islamabad of more than 60 leading journalists from across the country, who agreed on an action plan to improve media self-regulation and to seek redress for many long-standing industrial relations issues relating to working conditions, safety, training and pay.

“Journalists in Pakistan are boldly taking the opportunity presented by the change in government to improve the quality of journalism in the country and to improve working conditions,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary who is leading the mission to Pakistan.

“They have started a debate about how to improve journalism and it’s hoped that other stakeholders in the media, as well as civil society representatives, public officials and elected representatives will also participate.”

The IFJ mission, which includes Sunanda Deshapriya from Sri Lanka, also representing the International News Safety Institute and Mike Dobbie, from the IFJ-affiliate the Media Entertainment & Arts Alliance in Australia, also used their meeting with President Musharraf to raise concerns over safety of journalists.

The mission asked the President to ensure security and police forces investigate attacks, including kidnappings, of journalists in Karachi last week. The delegation also pressed him to encourage media owners to implement the Seventh Wages Board award improving the earnings of low-paid journalists and media staff which some media owners have steadfastly refused to implement.

The PFUJ will create a steering committee prepare a National Forum called for in a document Pakistan: A Fresh Start for Media and Democracy endorsed by the journalists’ meeting. The initiative stresses the importance of safety, the need to improve media quality and ethical standards, and calls for involvement of journalists throughout the country, including those working in the regions and the troubled tribal areas. A key issue is to improve working conditions of journalists and to secure unions rights and representation across the industry.

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The IFJ is the world’s largest journalists’ group representing more than 600,000 journalists.