Date: Tue, 27 Jul 1999 22:34:19 -0500 (CDT)
From: email@example.com (Rich Winkel)
Subject: MEDIA-PAKISTAN: Press Gagged By Intimidation and Self-censorship
/** ips.english: 440.0 **/
** Topic: MEDIA-PAKISTAN: Press Gagged By Intimidation and Self-censorship **
** Written 9:04 PM Jul 26, 1999 by newsdesk in cdp:ips.english **
Copyright 1999 InterPress Service, all rights reserved.
Worldwide distribution via the APC networks.
*** 26-Jul-99 ***
Press Gagged By Intimidation and Self-censorship
By Muddassir Rizvi, IPS
26 July 1999
ISLAMABAD, Jul 26 (IPS - Pakistan's independent media is under
unrelenting pressure to fall in line with the Nawaz Sharif
government, human rights groups say.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) in its latest
newsletter warned that the Sharif government is planning to
revive the repressive Press and Publications Ordinance (PPO)
in its bid to tighten control of the free press.
"Plans are afoot to re-issue the infamous Press and
Publications Ordinance and to adopt an inadequate law on people's
right to information," the HRCP said.
The PPO, which was repealed in the mid-1980s, had always been
considered the state's strongest tool to control and curb the
free press. It had been used frequently to close down newspapers
by successive governments.
"The very presence of such laws on the statute book is in
conflict with the citizens right to information," said
Zafarullah Khan, president of Green press, a group of
environmental journalists that also monitors press freedom
violations in Pakistan.
Already, the government has forced the country's largest Jang
Group of Publications to stop the editor of its English-language
newspaper 'The News', Dr Maleeha Lodhi, from writing under her
name. And it continues to keep in custody the editor of the
Peshawar-based 'Frontier Post' on charges of drug trafficking.
An alliance of Lahore-based journalist organisations and civil
society groups have issued a press statement saying the
government is exerting enormous pressure on the independent press
to give up dissent.
"The press is being forced through invisible pressures to
adopt an elaborate system of self-censorship," the Committee for
Free Press said in a recent statement.
Other targets include outspoken journalist Najam Sethi, editor
of 'The Friday Times' who was released after 25 days in custody on
June 3 after the government was forced to withdraw sedition
charges. But Sethi is now fighting illegal tax notices.
Fifty notices to the tune of 50 million rupees (roughly 1.2
million dollars) were slapped on him for non-payment of taxes,
which he has denied, and the government has also asked the
Election Commission to delete his name from the voters list.
"What is more alarming is that the newspapers are being
pressured to submit to the Ministry of Information's detailed
scrutiny on a daily basis ... Not only the news stories, but also
the opinion pages are being subjected to arbitrary censor in many
organisations," the New York-based Committee for Protection of
Journalists has protested in a letter to Prime Minister Sharif.
The Sharif government has sought to silence the independent
newspapers and non-governmental since the introduction of the
Shariah Bill, which its critics have rejected as a law that would
vest enormous powers in the prime minister.
An angry government took on the Jang Group, which had taken a
tough anti-legislation line. The clash took a serious turn
earlier this year with the government stopping newsprint supplies
to the group, forcing the editor-publisher to go public.
Huge support for the Jang group from within and outside
Pakistan forced the government to back off in February, but the
Jang Group has since been careful not to upset the government.
The HRCP sees a pattern in the government's actions to acquire
unfettered powers, and says under Sharif the democratic
institutions are taking a beating. "Political discourse has been
polluted by polarisation around narrow interests, and
authoritarian tendencies are becoming stronger in the country,"
Following the debacle in Kargil this month, from where the
government has had to ask its army and anti-India militants to
withdraw, some members of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League are
demanding a "culture of openness" in government.
They would like to be allowed to discuss and debate government
policies, a right that was taken away in 1997 with the enactment
of the Anti-Defection Bill by the Sharif government.
"If we are barred under the law not to speak or vote against
the government-sponsored legislation or any other move in the
parliament, we should at least be allowed to speak in party
meetings," said a ruling party member.
People have a right to information, and the media must be free
to do its work, says Mohammad Jawwad, an NGO worker in Islamabad.
A care-taker government installed after the last government
was sacked, had promulgated the first Freedom of Information
Ordinance, on Feb. 2, 1997. But on taking over power after
elections, Prime Minister Sharif had let the ordinance lapse.
Javed Jaidi, a senior Pakistani journalist says it suits the
government to keep the media under control and restrict the
sharing of information from the public.
All mainstream political parties have blindly accepted the
colonial principle of keeping the people in the dark though
access to information would be vital for a democracy, he said.
Origin: New Delhi/MEDIA-PAKISTAN/
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