Journalists’ entry into commerce ministry restricted
ISLAMABAD – The commerce ministry has restricted the entry of mediapersons on its premises as an attempt to check reporting on trade related issues, particularly on the ongoing trade negotiations with foreign countries.
According to a circular, a copy of which is available with Dawn, the ministry has directed its officials to avoid meeting with journalists otherwise punitive measures will be taken against them.
This is the third attempt by the ministry to curb the freedom of expression and right to access of information despite the repeated claims of the government that it believes in the freedom of press.
As a first attempt to deny journalists access to information, the commerce ministerÂ’s office had issued a circular a few months back directing all officials to keep themselves away from journalists and avoid sharing any kind of information with them.
During the tenure of the former commerce secretary, Tasneem Noorani, an attempt had been made to bring some legislation for banning reporting of any ongoing trade negotiations with foreign countries, particularly with the United States and the European Union.
This was followed by a circular issued by the ministry on Jan 31, 2005 which read, “it has been noticed that the information relating to certain policy issues under consideration of the ministry of commerce has been published in the print media before these were finalised. This has not only put the ministry in an embarrassing position but also created confusion in general public”.
It further said that as per standard operating procedure only the official spokesman of the ministry of commerce – additional secretary – was authorised to release information to the media. “It is, therefore, desired that this practice should be strictly followed.”
“The visiting journalists may be politely told to contact the official spokesman if some information relating to the ministry of commerce is needed. Violation of these instructions will constitute “misconduct” within the meaning of government servant (conduct) rules 1964 and dealt with accordingly,” the circular added.
A few reports highlighted by some newspapers during the last few months creating “embarrassment” for the ministry were on the expenses of an official delegation that attended the Hong Kong Ministerial Conference, ratification of the South Asia Free Trade Areas (Safta), establishment of the Trade Development Authority of Pakistan (TDAP), selection criterion for foreign posting of trade officers, improper handling of the ant-dumping case with the EU authorities and low level of implementation of the trade initiatives.
When approached, a senior official told this reporter that he would not share information about the current status of trade due to restriction from the big bosses.
“Please leave my room. If some saw you here, it would result in initiation of a disciplinary action against me,” the angry officer said.
At the same time, the senior officials of the ministry along with the Export Promotion Bureau chairman were bent upon abolishing the specialised group – commerce and trade group (CTG)– at a time when the country is going to hold the second mega event Expo 2006.
This action of the government has also created chaos in the ministry, which would ultimately not only affect the working level but also disturb the ongoing trade negotiations.