Call for Fresh Start for Media Freedom in Pakistan

As Pakistan prepares for the first parliamentary sitting of the new coalition government, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), an IFJ affiliate, are urging national leaders to reinstate media freedom as a key priority for the country’s democratic future.

Supported by the PFUJ, an international IFJ mission is visiting Pakistan until March 17 to send a strong message of hope for a fresh start for media and democracy in the country.

“The time is right for radical and lasting change in the relations between media and the state,” said IFJ General Secretary Aidan White after meetings with senior government and media leaders on March 13.

“The challenges facing the new government and media are clear – what is needed now is the political will and professional courage to bring about reform.”

The third international IFJ mission to Pakistan since February 2007 follows a year during which public access to information and the rights of journalists to report on issues of national interest were severely curtailed, particularly as new anti-media laws heralded a media clampdown under emergency rule imposed by President Pervez Musharraf in November 2007.

The mission also comes amid continuing violence against journalists in Pakistan.

On March 13, cameramen and journalists were attacked, chased and beaten while reporting on a demonstration organised by the women’s movement of the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM-H) outside the Karachi Press Club, according to the PFUJ. A media driver was taken hostage by armed protesters, who warned journalists not to broadcast video footage.

Across the country, journalists contend with verbal and physical abuse at the hands of various groups (including local authorities and fundamentalists), the risk of abduction and murder, unwarranted arrest, and the dangers of reporting in insecure locations.

Three journalists have been killed in Pakistan since November 2007. Five journalists were seriously injured when a bomb exploded at a politician’s press conference in Khuzdar, Baluchistan, in the lead-up to the national elections in February. Khalid Khosa and Hameed Baluch, both journalists with the daily Azadi, were reported missing in Baluchistan in the past two weeks.

The mission delegates, including the IFJ General Secretary, Sunanda Deshapriya and Mike Dobbie, are meeting with members of the caretaker government, leaders of the new coalition government, journalists’ unions and associations and media publishing houses to encourage fresh initiatives for a new chapter in relations between journalism, the state and civil society.

As the new parliament prepares to sit on March 17, the mission delegation has issued the following recommendations to strengthen the quality and ethical conduct of the media:

•    Allow public access to information through freedom of information and the creation of open and transparent structures of government and public administration;

•    Review the legal environment for the operation of the media and immediately repeal laws such as the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) ordinance and the Maintenance of Public Order Act;

•    Strengthen media self-regulation, including an independent Press Council;

•    Commit to public service values and the creation and acceptance of a culture of public service broadcasting; and

•    Enforce tough measures for protecting the safety of journalists to reduce risks facing the media and the working conditions of journalists.

The mission is meeting with leaders of the parties now preparing to form the country’s new reform government and will hold a special session with editors, media organisations and journalists on March 15 when the discussion will focus on how media can, in cooperation with civil society, overcome ethical challenges that confront journalists in Pakistan.  

For further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific on +612 9333 0919

The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 120 countries