PAKISTAN: Dialogue on press freedom urged

PAKISTAN: Dialogue on press freedom urged

External pressures, increasing commercialization in the media industry, and the dishonesty of some journalists are major impediments in the fair and objective coverage of events and issues

Dawn
Friday, June 11, 2004

KARACHI, June 10: Speakers at a seminar on press freedom, held on Thursday, observed that external pressures, increasing commercialization in the media industry and dishonesty on the part of some journalists acted as major impediments in the fair and objective coverage of events and issues.

They said the right to know was a fundamental right of every human being and heavy responsibilities lay on the shoulders of the press as it was supposed to ensure timely dissemination of facts without distortions, no matter what the circumstances.

The seminar had been organized by the Karachi Press Club (KPC) on its premises. A collection of articles, entitled Fetters or Freedom?, was also launched on the occasion.

At the event speakers, including senior editors and newsmen, highlighted the various problems faced by journalists. The former editor-in-chief of Dawn, Ahmad Ali Khan, said in his chief guest's address that more than 50 years on from independence the masses were yet to taste the benefit of freedom. And the press and its workers were among the people who were still struggling for their basic rights.

He said the right to know could be ensured only when there was transparency in the workings of the government and the authorities felt that they must provide all kinds of opportunities to the masses.

Turning to the issue of pressures on newspaper organizations, Mr Khan said there were some forces and groups, distinct from the federal and provincial governments, which made the dailies resort to self-censorship.

Ethnic and other militants groups regularly come up with demands or warnings to which the newspapers have to concede more often than not. Referring to increasing commercialization in the industry, the veteran journalist remarked that newspapers organizations must remain solvent at all times otherwise they were liable to be sold out.

However, there was a need to formulate a policy on advertisements in order to ensure the effectivity of content. Mr Khan pointed out that the idea of press council was yet to materialize but it was apprehended that the authorities would aim to use the same as an instrument against the media.

He said the presence of some working journalists and representatives of the masses on the body would increase its credibility. General-Secretary of the Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors (CPNE), Jabbar Khattak, said the KPC's souvenir was worthy not only from an educational point of view but also because it was aimed at making the media freer.

He noted that the people and institutions seeking press freedom had failed to strengthen themselves for the purpose. Talking about the CPNE, he informed the audience that efforts were on to make it a true professional editors' organization.

The press complaints commission, an accountability body, would also be established under the CPNE to ensure a fair and healthy industry, he said. Tahir Najmi, the editor of Express, said it must be realized by the media that timely dissemination of information was a duty which must never be compromised on account of financial gains. Doing so would only undermine the credibility of the press.

President of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists, Ahfaz-ur-Rahman, said the institution of the professional editor was under threat as many media owners had become their own editors. He said a professional editor should be the only person taking decisions on editorial policy and journalistic content.

KUJ President Mazhar Abbas said marketing personnel were now in a position of dominance in the media organizations, while less attention was being paid towards the quality of content. He also underscored the need to reintroduce professional editors in the newspaper organizations.

He called for a wide-ranging dialogue among people representing all the stakeholders in the industry. Nizamuddin Siddiqui, President of the KPC, introduced the speakers and also the souvenir.

He said the journalistic bodies should stop accepting donations from the authorities. Khurshid Abbasi, the KPC's Secretary, expressed the hope that seminars like Thursday's would help create awareness among the journalists about the issues in press freedom.