The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is outraged by news of a four-hour long siege on Aaj TV’s Karachi offices on May 12, which saw a number of journalists injured in the assault.
According to IFJ affiliate, the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), photographer Anwar Abbas received serious head injuries, two other camera persons were injured and had their cameras snatched at gunpoint by the attackers, and a reporter and camera person from the station were taken hostage as they were trapped in the crossfire.
Armed groups reportedly set the station car park ablaze, while production schedules were thrown into chaos as staff sheltered from periodic showers of bullets. Three media workers suffered minor bullet wounds during the assault.
According to IFJ sources, Aaj TV was among the first to telecast live images of vigilante squads from a political party closely allied with the federal government, and to identify them as principal instigators of the troubles.
There are also reports that allege the federal government issued a diktat to all television channels to avoid live coverage of a planned rally in support of suspended Pakistan chief justice, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry.
“From the information available to us it appears that this was a targeted attack on the television station, in retaliation for Aaj TVs coverage of violence in Karachi,” IFJ President Christopher Warren said.
“This is a harrowing time for Aaj TV, which has suffered many recent incidents affecting its ability to report the news,” Warren said.
“This shocking assault on the station is further proof that there is a serious politically-induced crisis facing the electronic media in Pakistan,” he said.
IFJ affiliate, the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) held a “Black Day” on May 14, in protest of the attack, and vowed to defend freedom of the press.
Protest demonstrations were held in towns across the country, including Islamabad, Lahore, and Karachi, to demand greater protections and safety measures for journalists.
Muttahida Qaumi Movement leader Dr Farooq Sattar reportedly apologised for the attack on the television station, giving his assurance that the Sindh government would investigate the matter.
Meanwhile the IFJ echoed appeals from the PFUJ to the Pakistan Broadcasters Association (PBA), All Pakistan Newspaper Society (APNS) and Council for Pakistan Newspapers Editors (CPNE), to adopt a joint strategy for the safety and protection of journalists and freedom of the press.
“Journalists in Pakistan are facing a dire situation, and employers and the government must do more to ensure journalists have life insurance, medical cover and adequate safety training,” Warren said.
“Action must be taken to safeguard the rights of journalists and other media workers who are now being deliberately persecuted for their reportage,” he said.
“Particularly in the case of the Pakistan electronic media and their ongoing harassment, President Musharraf must immediately disavow any official effort to shackle them and abridge their right to make independent editorial judgments,” Warren said.
The IFJ notes that the recent incident comes as part of a sequence of efforts to interfere in Aaj TV’s editorial autonomy.
These include, an unexpected suspension of its transmission on May 5 when it was about to air live coverage of a procession of the suspended chief justice of Pakistan, and a show-cause notice by the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) on April 22, for airing talk shows in relation to the judicial issue.
“The IFJ offers its full support to our Pakistani colleagues during this tense and trying time,” Warren said.
For further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific on +61 2 9333 0919
The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 115 countries