Govt out to terrorise press, says APNS -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

Govt out to terrorise press, says APNS

KARACHI – “While the country is facing high tide of terrorism, the government has chosen to terrorise the press by further blackening the existing draconian Defamation Ordinance 2002,” stated spokesman of All Pakistan Newspaper Society (APNS).

Syed Fasih Iqbal, acting President and Muhamamd Aslam Kazi, Secretary General, APNS rejected both the motivation and rationale contained within proposed bill of amendment to Defamation Ordinance 2002. They rejected the proposed bill and described it as “undemocratic and unethical black press law.”

They recalled that Defamation Ordinance 2002 was rejected by the coalition of APNS and CPNE and the then Minister for Information Nisar Memon and Minister for Law Khalid Ranjha had agreed at a joint meeting with APNS and CPNE on October 8, 2002 to amend Clause 9 of the Ordinance to provide a fine of Rs. 10,000/- and punishment of simple imprisonment, in case damages were not paid.

Instead of incorporating agreed amendment, the officials will get reporters, editors, publishers and distributors jailed for five years and fined Rs. 500,000/-. The proposed amendments also bind the court to decide defamation cases in three months.

APNS office-bearers felt that the government was bent upon to complete unfinished agenda of 2002 to strangulate press freedom through back-door attempt to transform article 19, of the Constitution of Pakistan that guarantees freedom of expression and freedom of press and sets up watch-dog role of the press in democratic dispensation.

They noted that the press expected better government-press relations during the prime ministership of Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, who had good track record of supporter of press while he held portfolio of ministry of information in the past. They regretted that the ministries concerned during the tenure of Ch. Shujaat Hussain were trying to regulate press.

Acting President and General Secretary APNS observed that after the introduction of Defamation Bill, the press found itself wondering that what followed might lead to prosecution. Successive governments have reacted sharply whenever press has brought under scrutiny important members of ruling party, elected or un-elected heads of government, and powerful public servants.

In a country with a highly secretive bureaucracy, it should be no surprise that Press reports may not always be entirely flawless. To ensure compete autocracy, government’s working has to make transparent, which has not been done.

Freedom of Information Ordinance which was promulgated in 2002 was in fact curtailment of freedom ordinance and law had agreed in consultation with press bodies after the induction of elected government.

Instead of ensuring free flow of information through acceptable information law, the government has backed out its earlier agreements and to decide defamation cases, the government had agreed with APNS and CPNE to the formation of a press council which has not yet been established for evident reasons. Had the press council been formed, there would have been no need to introduce defamation laws.

Fasih Iqbal and Aslam Kasi said that Prime Minister Ch. Shujaat Hussain recently assured that the objectionable clauses of Defamation Bill would be discussed with the press bodies and their concerns accommodated.

They requested the prime minister to hold dialogue with APNS on all issues confronting newspaper industry. They urged the press bodies, human rights organisations and other democratic forces to support press in its struggle against undemocratic press laws to ensure viable, objective and free press in the country.
Source: The News
Date:8/3/2004