Global Journalists Call for “Fresh Start for Press Freedom” in Pakistan as Mission Targets Media Crisis

The International Federation of Journalists today announced a new fact-finding mission to Pakistan and issued a challenge to the new government and media to work together for a “fresh start for press freedom.”

“The time is right for change and for all sides to break out of the cycle of violence, political pressure, and media indifference that has created crisis conditions for journalism in the country,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary who will visit the country this week.

The mission will be the third intervention by the international journalists’ movement in a turbulent 12 months when attacks on media have accompanied temporary suspension of democratic rule and seen Pakistan suspended from the Commonwealth.

However, the IFJ and local journalists hope the election of a new government in fiercely contested elections last month will open the door to a new dialogue and backing for action to strengthen independent and ethical journalism and provide greater protection of journalists who are increasingly targeted on all sides.

Last week the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), which is hosting the mission, expressed concern over the kidnapping of two daily newspaper journalists in Baluchistan. Three weeks ago a senior journalist was murdered in Quetta, the seventh journalist to die in violent circumstances in the past year.

Journalists fear that security agencies may be behind the latest kidnappings. There have been 12 abductions in recent years and the PFUJ points to evidence that journalists in the troubled province, some of whom have been tortured, have been put under pressure by both official forces and Baluch extremists.

“The violence must stop and the new government must pledge to end the targeting of journalists by any state agency,” said White. “At the same time there is a challenge to media to take control of their own affairs and build confidence in ethical and quality journalism. It’s time for a fresh start for press freedom in Pakistan.”

The mission, which also includes Sunanda Deshapriya, an IFJ leader from Sri Lanka, and Australian journalist Michael Dobbie, will meet with media executives, senior journalists, union leaders, officials from the parties forming the new government and also with President Pervez Musharraf, who encouraged the latest visit in an exchange with White in Brussels during his visit to Europe last month.

Among the demands being made on the new government will be for an early repeal of two controversial ordinances regulating media that were introduced at the same time as a short-term state of emergency was declared last year.

The amended laws – the Press, Newspapers, News Agencies and Books Registration (Amendment) Ordinance, 2007, and the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Third Amendment) Ordinance, 2007 – introduced controversial regulations that have affected how media report on official events, including recent coverage of news related to the elections.

“This mission will be an opportunity to put positive aims and realistic objectives on the table,” said White. “We expect and hope that the mood of change will reinforce the robust professionalism which is a hallmark of journalism in Pakistan. It’s time for dialogue, for frank exchanges and for a concerted effort to reinforce and deepen quality journalism.”

For more information please contact the IFJ at + 32 2 235 2207

The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 120 countries worldwide