Ban on Geo may jeopardize GSP plus status -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

Ban on Geo may jeopardize GSP plus status

Pakistan Press Foundation

ISLAMABAD: Any attempt to shutdown Pakistan’s biggest channel Geo TV can jeopardise Pakistan’s newly obtained GSP Plus status which has resulted in annual increased revenue of around €574 million (Rs78 billion) from duty free export to European Union.

The recent statement of European Union delegation issued here on World Press Day on May 2, was a reminder for Pakistan that it is bound to uphold freedom of expression under Generalised Scheme of Preferences (GSP+) Plus status.

Like other GSP+ regime countries, Pakistan has signed a “binding undertaking” with EU to effectively implement 27 core international conventions on human rights, good governance, labour and environmental standards. One of these conventions – International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966) – calls for complete freedom of expression in the country.

The Pakistani government isalso aware of the fact that the country can lose its GSP+ status if it fails to fully implement all these conventions.There is a strict and effective mechanism devised by EU to monitor the implementation of these conventions. In 2010, the EU revoked Sri Lanka’s GSP+ status over its human rights record.

The EU is Pakistan’s single largest trade partner with bilateral trade exceeding €8.1 million. According to the European Commission’s preliminary estimate, increased exports from Pakistan will bring an additional €574 million annually as a result of reduction in tariffs on over 90 percent of all product categories exported by Pakistan to the EU.

However, the European Union is concerned over the current situation of media freedom in the country. In the backdrop of a gun attack on Geo’s star anchor Hamid Mir, the EU has expressed concerns over increasing violence against journalists in the country.

Michael Mann, the spokesperson for the High Representative/European External Action Service, said the matter would be taken up during EU’s 2014 human rights dialogue with Pakistan.

“The matter will also be included in the EU’s 2014 human rights dialogue with Pakistan, where the importance of investing in deep democracy, that is to say accountability, respect for the rule of law and protection of human rights, will be stressed,” the spokesperson told ‘The News’ in an email.

“Although the biggest threat to Pakistani journalists is armed groups, there are also allegations of abuses committed by the military against journalists who report critically on their actions,” he added.

He said that the EU delegation in Islamabad had and would continue to raise concerns with the Pakistani authorities about freedom of expression in Pakistan.Earlier, EU delegation in Islamabad issued an unusually strong statement on World Press Freedom Day earlier this month urging the government to probe abuses against journalists and share the findings with the public.

“The EU delegation and EU Member States’ Missions appeal to the government of Pakistan to resolutely defend media freedom, this being an important component of freedom of expression as defined in article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Pakistan is party and has already made a strong commitment to uphold as part of the GSP+ scheme,” says the statement.

However, while contacted by ‘The News’ about the recent statement, EU’s head of delegation in Pakistan Ambassador Lars-Gunnar Wigemark did not divulge any further details about the impact of an action against Geo on Pakistan’s ties with EU.

Asked whether Pakistan’s GSP plus status could be revoked immediately as a result of a ban on Geo he only said: “There are no such considerations”.Nevertheless, the earlier statement of delegation made explicit mention of Pakistan’s commitment to uphold freedom of expression under GSP scheme.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966) is the third among 27 international conventions that are obligatory for GSP+ countries.The EU statement referred to article 19 of the ICCPR which states:

“1. Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference.

2. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.

3. The exercise of the rights provided for in paragraph 2 of this article carries with it special duties and responsibilities. It may therefore be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary:

(a) For respect of the rights or reputations of others;

(b) For the protection of national security or of public order (order public), or of public health or morals.”

The News