APNS rejects Freedom of Info Ord -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

APNS rejects Freedom of Info Ord

KARACHI- The All Pakistan newspapers Society has rejected as ‘illegitimate, unconstitutional and unethical’, the recent package of four draft ordinances passed by the Federal Cabinet and asked at regulating the Press in Pakistan.

These draft ordinances are in consistent violation of all agreements reached with the two bodies of the Press – the Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors and the APNS. These are also more critically in flagrant violation of Article 19 of the Constitution of Pakistan and of the limited mandate given by the Supreme Court for the governance of Pakistan and holding of elections’, an APNS spokesman stated in Karachi. The APNS has summoned a meeting in Karachi On October 4, 2002, to evolve the final strategy for ‘combating these black press laws’ and evolve a common strategy with the CPNE on how to ‘roll back’ the absurd, preposterous and uncivilized pieces of legislation masquerading as ‘Press laws.’

In a message from London, the APNS President, Hameed Haroon stated, “The time has come to initiate a massive domestic and international campaign against the betrayal by the Musharraf government, of the freedom of expression and freedom of Press. The consequences of this action must lie Musharraf government which has done a massive turnabout on its commitment to the freedom of the Press and host to regulate us in the future through a mixture of draconian laws, kangaroo Press codes and complete backout on all information relating to the wrong doings of the executive and any information on inefficiencies by the military. This is simply not acceptable. Under such circumstances all dialogues and meetings become meaningless. The government has lost our trust on matters of the Press,” the message from the President APNS concluded.

The APNS has stated that the government has made no attempt to justify its breaking of previous agreements on the new laws to govern the Press. ‘There must be some way to hold a government and its departments to their word, and to agreements they have been party to. How can anyone trust a government that breaks its word as often as this government has on Press laws? If President Musharraf has not done so, or was not aware of this situation, then he must dismiss the Cabinet Minister responsible. Otherwise, one has no option but to believe that he has sanctioned these terrible departures from Press freedom, and that his domestic actions are not in consonance with the international image of the government,’ an APNS spokesman stated.

The Federal Ministry of Information has explicitly stated that only ‘minor changes’ have been made in the agreed draft laws. ‘This explanation is totally misleading and unacceptable’ according to the APNS spokesman. The APNS has posed the following four questions to the Federal Information Minister:

1. Can the creation of a self-regulating and autonomous Press Council with one government representative out of 17 members merely exercising moral authority be converted into a body where the government appoints 9 out of 19 members and transforms it into a Press Court with wide-ranging powers to cancel newspaper, declarations by banning them – can this be said to constitute a minor change?

2. Can the transformation of a mission statement by professional newspaper editors – the Code of Ethics – be tinkered with, and the government add clauses to its language, and convert it into a legal undertaking by the Editor to the government, the transgressions of which would be actionable under the law? Does the government consider this a ‘minor change’?

3. In 1988, the Ayubian Press and Publications Ordinance, which prevented newspapers from publishing without government permission, had been withdrawn. The government has now reinstated the power of District Coordination Officer of local government to prevent such a declaration or permission from being issued. The Press fought 25 years for the removal of such a law. Is it a ‘minor change’ to reinstate it?

4. The government was to introduce a Freedom of Information Ordinance to grant access to information about the government as an essential ingredient in the new laws. Is the exclusion of information with respect to the army and foreign policy, even of a non­strategic nature, and is the prohibition on printing minutes of government meetings and noting on files that highlight departures of the government from rules, a ‘minor change’ in the’ content of the law.

These are questions that the Minister for Information must answer if the credibility of the government on the new Press laws is to be maintained’, the APNS document concludes.

Source: The Nation