PAKISTAN: Media bashes Musharraf's emergency rules
President Pervez Musharraf shuts down private television stations, restricts news coverage, increases penalties
Monday, November 5, 2007
Major Pakistani newspapers condemned President Pervez Musharraf's state of emergency and unequivocally criticized the harsh clampdown on media.
The News said in an editorial that "as the state of emergency, which in effect is a euphemism for martial law, was imposed on Saturday, Pakistan entered a new age of darkness."
A Dawn editorial encapsulated Pakistan's situation: "So we are back to square one. Back to Oct 12, 1999. All the gains over the years have gone down the drain. All this talk about the forward thrust towards democracy ... turned out to be one great deception."
Dawn accused Musharraf's move as one made to weaken the judicial system preceding the Supreme Court's ruling on the constitutionality of his recent re-election as president while remaining military chief. Musharraf fired Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry after he declared the state of emergency.
Describing it as the "gravest errors of judgment," other Pakistani dailies remarked Musharraf's emergency state and media restrictions were bound only to "fracture an already weakened nation."
The media condemnation came after reports of newspaper, radio and television station closures started filtering in. According to a Press Trust of India report, police and information department personnel raided the premises of Urdu newspaper Awam after they suspected the paper planned to publish a special supplement on the state of emergency. They reportedly found no evidence, however, of such a supplement.
In another incident, according to a Dawn report, Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) officials raided Aaj TV channel's office in Islamabad and seized broadcast equipment without proof of legal orders.
Condemning the imposition of the emergency rule in a press release, International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) warned the move was likely to make the situation go from bad to worse.
"Pakistan will only find peace and stability through respect for the rule of law and the people's right to know. By putting troops in the newsrooms, the government seems to have abandoned both," said IFJ General Secretary Aidan White.
Musharraf's latest press restrictions under emergency rule bar the printing and broadcasting of material likely to defame government or military officials, to jeopardize the country's ideology, or to incite violence or hatred or prejudice that disrupts the maintenance of law and order. New ordinance section 5A prohibits any news reports on terrorism, unless law enforcement agencies allow, and section 20 of the 2002 PEMRA Ordinance was amended to put the same ban on television stations also.
The penalties for breaking the new ordinances are severe. Newspapers can be suspended for up to 30 days. Broadcast stations forfeit their facilities and equipment, and the licensee or representative can be sent to jail for three years, fined Rs 10 million or both.
The restrictions were announced hours after several leading national and foreign news channels were taken off the air by cable operators, except for state-run Pakistan Television (PTV). Private television stations remain off air.
Musharraf declared the state of emergency on Saturday, Nov. 3, he said, in response to the threat of terrorism and judicial oversight. U.S. President George W. Bush urged Musharraf on Monday to restore democracy.
Date Posted: 11/5/2007