‘Media completely free in Pakistan’
* Sheikh Rashid says government will issue 15 television licences and permit 37 new channels
ISLAMABAD: Participants at a seminar entitled ‘Free Media for a Free Pakistan’ in connection with World Press Freedom Day were dissatisfied with laws curbing press freedom.
The seminar was jointly organised by Allama Iqbal Open University (AIOU) and the United Nations (UN) Information Centre. Participants said journalists were manhandled and were being confronted by obstacles.
Participants included Muhammad Ziauddin Din resident editor of Dawn, Syed Talat Hussain from Aaj TV, Hamid Mir from Geo TV, Qatrina Hussain from PTV, Afzal Bajwa from the Nation, Ishfaq Ahmed from the Information Ministry and Dr Iltaf Hussain from AIOU. The panellists said free media and good governance were interlinked and said democracy could not flourish without freedom of expression.
Press freedom could not flourish in a non-democratic society like Pakistan where parliament and the judiciary were subservient to dictators, they added. “Press freedom has suffered and survived in unfavourable conditions. However, it has played a role in highlighting the shortcomings of public establishments,” said Khalid Akhtar, a journalist.
Freedom required a strong parliament and an independent judiciary, said Ziauddin.
The government’s claims of press freedom were exposed by laws such as the freedom of information ordinance, he said, adding that laws should facilitate freedom of expression rather than curbing objectivity.
“For objective reporting, journalists who seek facts face constant threats to their lives. News organisations should provide protection to such journalists by setting up insurance for their families in case they are hurt,” said Hosnain.
Hussain said strict media laws such as the Defamation Law and Official Secrets Act had been criticised and said media representatives demanded they be discussed in parliament. Pakistan was the only country where the Freedom of Information Act was ineffective, said Hamid Mir, a journalist. “Despite this law, police brutally beat 70 journalists on April 16 in Lahore,” he said.
In his keynote address, Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said Pakistan’s press enjoyed unprecedented freedom and full access to information.
“The government believes in press freedom and welcomes positive criticism,” he said, adding they enjoyed more freedom than any other country.
The media had full information on events in Wana, Balochistan and other parts of the country, he said.
He invited the media to highlight challenges faced by the country and to try and solve people’s problems. Democratic institutions in the country were being strengthened, the minister said.
He said people’s views were important and could not be suppressed. The government had issued 15 licenses to establish private television channels in the private sector and 37 new channels would arrive soon, he said.
He said that three DDH channels would also be established, adding that 50,000 jobs would be created as a result.
The minister said the world’s media should highlight the Kashmir and Palestine issues.
He said that he had proposed at the Organisation Islamic Conference (OIC) meeting that there be an OIC digital television channel to highlight the cause of the Muslim Ummah. In another seminar entitled ‘Free Media for a Free Pakistan’ organised by the Liberal Forum, participants said journalists were working in a non-congenial environment.
The lingering issue of the Wage Board Award must be resolved immediately, they said.
Participants included C R Shamsi, Pervez Shaukat, Fozia Shahid, MNA Sherry Rehman of Pakistan People’s Party-Parliamentarians (PPP-P) and Afzal Khan of the Liberal Forum.
They asked the government to link newspaper advertisements with the award and said the government should issue licenses to TV channels to print media parties who implemented the award.
Rehman said she had introduced four bills in the National Assembly (NA) regarding press freedom and freedom of information. However, none had been debated, she said, adding that important decisions were taken out of parliament. She suggested that corporate journalism be introduced in the country and said professional journalists should be editors of new organisations to improve their functioning.