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PFUJ chief calls media crackdown illegal as journalists refuse to obey amended ordinances
Tuesday, November 6, 2007
By Nizamuddin Siddiqui
Karachi --- Since the imposition of emergency rule in the country on Saturday, the authorities' censorship of independent television channels has been complete, with Pakistanis not getting to watch any of them on Sunday and Monday. Even international channels such as the BBC and CNN were denied to them.
The main reason for the continued blackout of the radio and television channels is the journalists' refusal to accept the amendments to the Press, Newspapers, News Agencies and Books Registration Ordinance, 2002, and the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority, 2002, which bar the print and electronic media from printing and broadcasting "anything which defames or brings into ridicule the head of state, or members of the armed forces, or executive, legislative or judicial organ of the state".
Gen Pervez Musharraf's move of amending the aforementioned ordinances, according to some journalists, turns back the clock to the 1990s, which is utterly unacceptable to them because doing so will simply negate the progress made in the intervening period.
The secretary-general of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), Mazhar Abbas, went a step further and characterised the promulgation of the said ordinances as the toughest assault on the media since the late 1970s. "This government step reminds us of the late '70s because like then we can only watch the state-run Pakistan Television," he told this reporter on Monday.
"Today the Pakistani people can watch the PTV or the channels telecasting superfluous soap operas, but we cannot see the channels which give us information.
"And let's talk about the role of the PTV. Is it informing the people or trying to misguide them?"
The chief of the PFUJ said the crackdown on the news channels was illegal. "Under the Pemra Ordinance, they cannot just shut the channels down. They are supposed to give a notice of 30 days. They cannot mount raids on television channels and television channels like this."
Mr Abbas said that even though the television channels had been closed their cameramen were still being harassed. "Even today we came to know that law enforcement personnel have been snatching cameras from cameramen of the independent news channels."
When asked to comment on the government view that the media may have been misusing the freedom allowed to them, the PFUJ's secretary-general said: "If we were doing anything wrong, they should have substantiated the instances when we crossed the limits. But they did nothing of the sort. They just shut everybody down."
He said the channels would be reopened the moment the news channels accepted the newly-amended ordinances. "But let me remind you that accepting the ordinances would be like committing suicide because that would mean sanctioning the regulation of information. That is not acceptable to the Pakistani journalists."
Talat Hussain of Aaj TV said Gen Musharraf wanted the media people to "take oath on the new PCO", by accepting the amended ordinances.
Everything, he said, boiled down to what Gen Musharraf wanted to do with the country. "If he wants one-man rule in Pakistan, he doesn't need independent television channels. But if he wants to hold elections, you may see us functioning again."
Asked if the journalists were likely to accept the amended ordinances, he said: "No, we are not going to accept them. There's unanimity among journalists on this issue."
He said the owners of the independent television and radio news organisations, represented by the Pakistan Broadcasters Association, were holding talks with the information ministry to get their channels on air again. "But here again, we are not sure if the ministry people have the requisite powers to strike a deal with the channel owners.
"So, everything depends on what Gen Musharraf wants."
Date Posted: 11/6/2007
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