September 27, 2020
QUETTA—The Federal Executive Council (FEC) of Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) has expressed grave concern over the complete denial of press freedom, and freedom of speech and expression in Pakistan since Prime Minister Imran Khan came to power.
“A systematic war has been launched by the government and anti-media forces to curb the freedom of expression and force the media houses to toe the official line or face the government’s wrath,” the FEC said in its declaration following a three-day meeting here from September 25 to 27.
PFUJ President Shahzada Zulfiqar presided over the meeting, attended by elected FEC members besides all the presidents and secretaries of journalists unions from across the country.
PFUJ Secretary-General Nasir Zaidi convened the meeting, hosted by Balochistan Union of Journalists (BUJ).
“From financially squeezing the media houses to imposing unannounced censorship, telephonic threats to owners and torture and kidnapping of journalists by anti-media forces, every tool is used to muzzle the voice of the free media,” says the declaration.
It points out that the very first action of the new government was to put a financial squeeze on the media industry by bringing into question the amount it owed to the media and withholding the payment of past arrears.
The media owners hit back by resorting to massive retrenchments, closing down newspapers, delaying and cutting salaries, and massively reducing the monthly emoluments of working journalists.
The media workers did not protest, but the government behaved more like a military dictatorship. The ultimate sufferers have been the working journalists.
“The government has also started micro-managing the media with advices, increasing the list of red-lines that the media is arm-twisted not to cross. It has led the media to resort to self-censorship never before forced on it even during military rules.”
The establishment’s tactics to force the media to ‘behave’ include unannounced censorships, blatant arm-twisting of media professionals, abductions, and arrests of those who refuse to fall in line.
“Violation of Article 19 of the constitution by the state has become the norm,” says the declaration, adding “this meeting holds Tehreek-e-Insaf government under Prime Minister Imran Khan directly responsible for the current crises in the media industry.”
“The FEC demands that the government forthwith abandon all its anti-media policies and sit down with representatives of the media industry—PFUJ, CPNE, APNS, PBA and civil society, including HRCP and PBC, to discuss the matter holistically and reach an accord that would guarantee media freedom as per the ruling party’s manifesto.”
“We urge once again that PCP and PEMRA need to be liberated from the Information Ministry to enable these institutions to function as independent regulators and not as line departments of a government ministry to be misused for promoting the government’s agenda and maligning the opposition.”
FEC also expresses serious concern over abductions of journalists from Islamabad and other parts of the country and the arrest of Mir Shakil-ur-Rehman, chief editor of Pakistan’s largest media group in a decades’ old land purchase case.
Mir is still in the custody of NAB, reflecting the impunity with which state institutions regard the constitutional guarantees allowed to freedom of speech and press freedom.
The declaration also condemns in the strongest terms, the continuous attempts by the government to amend the relevant rules and regulations and to write new black laws to bring the social media under its full control.
The meeting also condemns in equally strong terms the increasing cases of trolling and harassment of female journalists and anchorpersons of different TV channels by unknown trolls.
The FEC demands withdrawal of all the media advices issued by PEMRA from time to time, stopping attacks on journalists’ and media houses, stopping arm-twisting through open press advice and by threatening telephone calls.
The meeting also condemns the practice of launching shady radio stations and TV channels using front sponsors. “The general public is too smart not to see through the negative narratives and fake stories broadcast by these shady and clandestine media houses and their anchors lacking professionalism,” says the declaration.
PFUJ demands safety and security of journalists, media workers, and regional media outlets in all the provinces, particularly, Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and Sindh as it is the responsibility of the provincial governments and state machinery to provide safety and security of all the segments of the society.
FEC also calls upon the government to rationalize advertisement rates and policy in line with the escalating increases in prices all around.
The Meeting also urges the government to clear pending arrears of Rs6 billion with Press Information Department of Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. It would help, to some extent, in resolving the financial crisis faced by the industry.
The FEC also demands that the government take all necessary steps to ensure freedom of press which in turn guarantees transparency, good governance, strengthening the process of democracy, democratic norms and democratic institutions in the country.
The FEC of PFUJ also resolves to continue its struggle for the freedom of speech and expression guaranteed in Article 19 of the 1973 Constitution of Pakistan and play its role as a frontline defender of constitutional rights of journalist community and media workers across Pakistan as always.
Photo courtesy: Geo.tv
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