IFJ seeks ‘fresh start’ for press freedom
BRUSSELS, March 11: The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is sending a fact-finding mission to Pakistan to urge the new government and media to work together for a Â“fresh start for press freedom”.
“The time is right for change and for all sides to break out of the cycle of violence, political pressure and media indifference that has created crisis conditions for journalism in the country,” said IFJ general secretary Aidan White, who will lead the delegation.
Mr White told Dawn that he believed the new government must urgently repeal two controversial ordinances regulating media that were introduced at the same time as a short-term state of emergency was declared last year.
The amended laws — the Press, Newspapers, News Agencies and Books Registration (Amendment) Ordinance, 2007; and the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Third Amendment) Ordinance, 2007 — introduced controversial regulations that have affected how media report on official events, including recent coverage of news related to the elections.
“We expect and hope that the mood of change will reinforce the robust professionalism which is a hallmark of journalism in Pakistan. It’s time for dialogue, for frank exchanges and for a concerted effort to reinforce and deepen quality journalism.” As such, the focus must also be on encouraging ethical journalism in Pakistan and ensuring that the media as a watchdog of politics and society was also transparent and accountable, he said.
The IFJ mission will be the third intervention by the international journalists’ movement in a turbulent 12 months when attacks on media have accompanied temporary suspension of democratic rule and seen Pakistan suspended from the Commonwealth.
The IFJ and journalists hope the election of a new government will open the door to a new dialogue and backing for action to strengthen independent and ethical journalism and provide greater protection of journalists who are increasingly targeted on all sides.
Last week the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), which is hosting the mission, expressed concern over the kidnapping of two journalists in Balochistan. Three weeks ago a senior journalist was murdered in Quetta, the seventh to die in violent circumstances in the past year.
Journalists fear that security agencies may be behind the latest kidnappings. There have been 12 abductions in recent years and the PFUJ points to evidence that journalists in the troubled province, some of whom have been tortured, have been put under pressure by both official forces and Baloch militants.
“The violence must stop and the new government must pledge to end the targeting of journalists by any state agency,” said Mr White. “At the same time there is a challenge to media to take control of their own affairs and build confidence in ethical and quality journalism.”
The mission, which includes Sunanda Deshapriya, an IFJ leader from Sri Lanka, and Australian journalist Michael Dobbie, will meet media executives, union leaders, senior journalists, leaders of the parties forming the new government and President Pervez Musharraf.