Pakistan Press Freedom Report 1997 by Owais Aslam Ali
The year 1997 saw the coming into power of the Pakistan Muslim League (PML) led by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. The government entered into alliance with the Mohajir Qaumi Movement (Later renamed as Muttahada Qaumi Movement) or MQM, which resulted in a less violent and turbulent political environment in the province of Sindh. The easing of tension led to a dramatic reduction in government action against the press.
However, 1997 was also a year of broken promises. During election campaigns the PML had committed itself to ending monopolies in the electronic media and opening it up to private sector participation, and to improving public’s access to official information. However, after coming into power the PML government allowed the two ordinances, which would have achieved the very purpose, to lapse.
The level of violence against the press by political and other groups and harassment by local police officials continued at an unacceptable level. The violence led to the death of one journalist and injuries to many. There were a number of violent attacks on the offices of media institutions.
Violence against the media
Photo journalist killed in bomb blast
Z.A. Shahid, news photographer of daily Khabrain was killed when a powerful bomb exploded outside the Sessions Court premises in Lahore on January 17.
Five journalists were also injured in the incident. The injured journalists included Arif Ali of The News, Abid Husain of Nawa-i-Waqt, SA Raza of Jang, Muhammad Riaz of Akhbar-i-Lahore and Nadeem of Pakistan.
The targets of the blast were leaders of an anti-Shiite group, Sipah Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) who were being brought to the court for a hearing. Nineteen people were killed and 80 injured in the blast. Police arrested a man suspected of planting the bomb, which was concealed in a motor cycle.
Attacks on Sindhi press
The Sindh National Front (SNF), a nationalist political party launched a sustained campaign of intimidation and violence against Sindhi language newspapers, which included dacoities, burning of newspaper copies, and attacks on the journalists and newspaper offices.
The attacks were as reprisal to the interview by Shakeel Naich, reporter of daily Awami Awaz in which the Punjab chief minister Shahbaz Sharif had slated SNF chief Mumtaz Bhutto, for criticising National Finance Commission Award which Bhutto himself had signed while he was the caretaker chief minister. Shahbaz Sharif denied he had given any interview to the journalist and said the entire report was concocted.
On August 3, the Central Executive Committee member of Sindh National Front (SNF), Ayub Shaar, along with six other party members came to the office of the daily Awami Awaz and asked Shakeel Naich to accompany them. They took the journalist to a nearby place and subjected him to severe beating. Shakeel Naich received serious head injuries and had to be hospitalised in the intensive care unit of the neurology ward. According to press reports, the attackers were seen slipping into the MPA hostel, which is for the members of the provincial assembly.
The attack on Shakeel Naich was widely condemned. On August 5 journalists held protest demonstration outside Karachi Press Club against the attack on Shakeel Naich. They passed a resolution calling for the arrest of SNF workers. Mumtaz Bhutto was invited to attend a joint meeting of KUJ, APNEC and Council of Sindhi Newspapers (CSN) to register his complaints against newspapers or the journalists but he did not attend the meeting.
On August 8 SNF obstructed the distribution of the Awami Awaz in many towns and cities including Larkana, Rattodero, Nau Dero, Dharki and Ubawaro. Bundles of the newspapers were snatched and burned and hawkers were threatened.
On September 4, 1997, the Larkana office of the daily Kawish was ransacked. Five armed people broke into the office at mid night and took away computers, fax, scanner and important documents.
On September 14, a procession organised to protest against increasing incidents of dacoities and obstruction in circulation of newspapers in the interior of the province was baton charged by the police, causing injuries to many. Over 300 journalists and newspaper employees had planned to march from Karachi Press Club to the Chief Minister’s House to present the protest note.
Journalists who received baton blows included Rashid Rajar, co-ordinator of the CSN and editor of the Hyderabad-based daily Sindh, Iqbal Mallah, Zahid Qaimkhani, correspondent of the Pakistan Press International (PPI) and Sindh in Kandiaro, who fractured three fingers; and Zain Dawoodpoto, joint secretary of Hyderabad Press Club and correspondent of Jago.
On September 22, the Executive Committee of SNF announced the boycott of seven Sindhi language newspapers, Kawish, Awami Awaz, Ibrat, Sindh, Khadim-I-Watan, Sawal and Barsat. It warned CSP to give up its anti-SNF stance or it would face the wrath of the people.
On October 1 in Shikarpur, five armed men snatched bundles of Kawish, Ibrat and Sindh and set them on fire. On October 9, seven armed men set Jago, Awami Awaz, Hilal-e-Pakistan, Kawish and Ibrat on fire in Dadu.
A policeman and two employees of the Sindhi-language daily Sawal were seriously injured on October 15, when a homemade bomb was thrown at the newspaper’s offices of in Hyderabad. The bomb, which exploded at the main gate of the newspaper office, caused a two feet wide ditch. Another explosion took place the same day in Hyderabad at the offices of another Sindhi-language daily, Kawish.
Rasheed Rajar, the editor of Sindh, received threatening telephone calls the same day. The telephone caller identifying himself as a member of the “Front Tiger” threatened a bomb attack. However, a heavy police contingent was rushed to the newspaper, which may have deterred the would-be attackers.
Zahid Jhangavi of daily Pakistan attacked
Party workers attacked Zahid Jhangavi of daily Pakistan, who had gone to cover the proceedings of the Muslim Conference, on May 15 in Rawalpindi. The journalist was seriously injured in the attack.
The journalists covering Senate proceedings staged a walkout in protest against the attack. Mushahid Hussain, the then Advisor to the Prime Minister for Information and Culture, met the protesting journalists and assured them that the government condemned the use of violence against journalists performing their duty. He said the government would take serious notice of such incidents.
Hospital staff beat press photographers
The hospital staff at Rawalpindi General Hospital (RGH) beat nine photographers of national dailies on September 10.
The photographers had gone to the hospital to photograph a slain worker of Tehrik Nifaz-i-Fiqh-i-Jaffariya but the Chief Medical Officer and some other doctors interfered and stopped them from taking pictures. The doctors locked Zulfiqar of daily Jang and Khurram of daily Assas in the emergency room. In the meantime around 200 house officers of the hospital came out from the hostel, attacked the photographers and broke their cameras.
The photographers attacked were Zulfiqar (daily Jang), Khurram (daily Assas), Abidi (daily Al-Akhbar), Zafar Awan (daily Al-Akhbar), Raja Iftikhar (daily Pakistan Observer), Qaiser Shah (daily Business Times) and Abdul Hameed (daily Jang).
Workers of political party beat newsmen
The workers of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) beat journalists and staff of the Lahore Press Club on October 27.
About 200 PPP workers tried to force their way into the press club where Rao Sikandar Iqbal, the party president of the Punjab province, was addressing a news conference after a rally addressed by him was baton charged by the police. When the staff tried to prevent them from entering the building, one party activist held a journalist at gun point while others started beating the journalists and throwing chairs at them.
Party workers burn copies of Dawn in Jacobabad
Workers of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League (PML), on May 6, burnt bundles of the daily Dawn in the city of Jacobabad, Sindh, to protest against the publication of a report based on press conference by Imdad Unar, a special assistant to the former chief minister in which he criticised Chief Minister, Liaquat Ali Jatoi.
When the newsagent went to lodge a criminal complaint (First Information Report or FIR), he was asked to mention the names of the youth that were involved. Since he could not tell the names, the FIR was not lodged. The agent also received threatening calls that his shop would be set on fire if he lodged a FIR.
Dacoity in offices of the daily Sindh
On June 30, three unidentified men barged into the office of the daily Sindh and took away electronic equipment including a TV set VCR, telephone sets, computers, fax machine and laser printer. The dacoits held the three employees hostages in the newsroom.
A joint meeting of PFUJ, KUJ and APNEC was held at Karachi Press Club urged the government to immediately arrest those involved in the attack on the paper and to provide compensation to the newspaper.
Office of Pakistan Television Corporation ransacked by workers of political party
Activists of Jamaat-i-Islami, Azad Kashmir, ransacked the office of the state run Pakistan Television (PTV) on October 27 to protest what they alleged was a blackout of their party.
About 40 workers of the Jamaat barged into the office at about 1.30 p.m. and broke windowpanes, TV set, tape recorder, chairs, tables and other items.
The JI workers chanted slogans against PTV. The workers were angry because their party chief Abdur Rashid Turabi was not shown in PTV news bulletin. They were also angry with PTV for ignoring the coverage of the human chain organised by Jamaat-i-Islami workers in different cities of Pakistan on October 24 to express solidarity with the people of Indian occupied Kashmir.
Journalist attacked by unidentified motorcyclists
On 11 July, two unidentified motorcyclists assaulted Khaliq Kiani, the Islamabad correspondent for the Business Recorder, Karachi.
The US-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) quoting, unconfirmed reports said Kiani had been filing investigative stories about bureaucrats who were recently suspended by the government, expressed fears that he may have been targeted because of his work.
Office of Urdu daily Assas ransacked
In Rawalpindi, more than a hundred armed persons ransacked the offices of the Urdu daily Assas on 16 February 1997 for not publishing the statement of a candidate for provincial assembly in the recent elections.
The newspaper had received a press release the day earlier from Raja Ishfaq Sarwar, a candidate for the provincial assembly, which contained accusations against his opponent. As the allegations could not be confirmed, the paper did not publish the press release. The next day, a close friend of Sarwar, along with over a hundred armed supporters, barged into the office of the daily, held the staff hostage and damaged the furniture, telephones and other equipment in the office. They also assaulted staff members and looted Rs 200,000 (US$ 5,000).
Police arrived at the scene on time and arrested eight persons, including the ringleader, while the others managed to escape.
Bomb blast at newspaper offices
In Karachi, a powerful bomb ripped through the office of Qaumi Akhbar an Urdu evening newspaper on March 3. The bomb went off at 6:00 a.m. in the accounts and marketing department.
The bomb was placed on the first floor of the accounts department. The blast was so powerful that doors and windowpanes of the nearby buildings were also shattered.
The Sindh chief minister, Liaquat Ali Jatoi visited the damaged newspaper office and announced compensation for the damages.
Political parties apologise for attack on Peshawar Press Club
On a slightly positive note two religious parties, the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) and the Jamiat Ulema Islam (JUI), apologised to journalists on January 9 1997 for the New Year’s Eve attack on the Peshawar Press Club by their armed activists. The parties condemned the act and promised to take disciplinary action against those responsible.
The year 1996 had ended inauspiciously for Peshawar journalists when armed workers of these parties, led by their local leaders and some Afghan refugees, attacked the Peshawar Press Club on New Year’s Eve. The attackers barged into the press club and demanded the journalists disband the music programme being held after an annual dinner. They resorted to violence when the journalists refused to accede to their demand. They fired weapons, manhandled journalists and disrupted the music programme.
As a mark of protest, Peshawar journalists started an indefinite hunger strike and announced a complete boycott of the news coverage of the two parties starting on January 3. Following the decision, armed activists of JI attacked and injured the president of the Photographers Association, Zubair Zia and reporter Tariq Khattak for carrying a protest banner. Major media organisations and political groups condemned the attack.
The journalists ended the news boycott and hunger strike after seven days, after the leaders of the parties tendered their apology and condemned the attack.
Police and the press
Takbeer offices raided
On July 16, offices of the Urdu weekly Takbeer, Karachi were raided by the police following the killing of two sons of Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP), Aziz-ur-Rehman, his guard and the driver near his house in Malir.
The DSP in a criminal complaint (FIR) had alleged that the weekly had published news that he and his sons were involved in arresting and killing a MQM activist, Farooq Dada. According to him, the news provoked the killing of his sons and the others.
The police party said they had come to arrest two editors, Sarwat Jamal Asmai of Takbeer, Rafiq Afghan, of the Urdu daily Ummat and Shahrukh Hassan, a reporter of Takbeer. However, no arrest was made after the intervention of the Deputy Inspector General (DIG) of the police.
Journalist Sailab Mehsud beaten, thrown in lock up
On February 17, Sailab Mehsud, president of the Tribal Union of Journalists and a corespondent of The News, was severely beaten and thrown into the lock up by the police in the town of Tank in South Waziristan in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP). Sailab Mehsud had gone to the police station to gather information about a person in the lock up.
The journalist was abused, kicked and punched by a dozen policemen who later threw him into lock up.
A delegation of journalist met the Commissioner of Dera Ismail Khan and informed him of the incident. They lodged a formal complaint and medical report of the injuries to the journalist. The Commissioner ordered the release of the journalist and suspended three police officials involved in the incident.
Journalist Qaiser Mahmood Khokhar arrested and assaulted
On December 29 journalist Qaiser Mahmood Khokhar was arrested and beaten by police in Lahore. Khokhar had gone to the police station to collect the discharge papers of a case registered against him on December 1. He was arrested by sub-inspector (SI) of police Farrukh Shah, and several policemen severely beat the journalist while being detained.
The SI on duty handcuffed and blindfolded the journalist and made him walk barefoot through a local market. The SI also forced Khokhar to tell the shopkeepers and passers-by that he was a journalist and that he was being punished for creating trouble for the police.
Later, Khokhar was taken to a deserted place at around 3 am where the police removed his handcuffs and ordered him to run away or else he would be killed in a fake encounter, allegedly on the orders of a senior police official.
In the meantime, a number of journalists gathered outside the police station, and on the direction of the Public Relation Officer of the Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP), several wireless messages were sent to the SI to report back to the police station with the journalist.
A group of journalists also met the commissioner and demanded action against the police officials for misconduct. The commissioner ordered an investigation and suspended SI Farrukh Shah.
Police raid offices of daily Pakistan
Police raided and occupied the offices of the Urdu language daily Pakistan, Lahore on 27 August. The reason was a financial dispute between the owner of the paper Akbar Ali Bhatti and Punjab Co-operative Bank.
Military trial of journalist
Humayun Far, the Islamabad Bureau Chief of the Urdu daily Mashriq, Peshawar, was awarded five years rigorous imprisonment by a military court on charges of being involved in anti-state activities. Later he was pardoned on medical grounds by the Chief of Army Staff on the appeal of his wife.
Far was abducted by unidentified persons at 9.30 p.m. on June 28. He was standing with his wife outside their house when eight men, one of them in police uniform approached in two cars. They forced Far into the car and drove away.
His whereabouts remained unknown until Interior Minister, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain told the National Assembly on June 30 that Far was in the custody of a government agency. He alleged that the journalist was involved in anti-state activities and was arrested for providing classified documents to unspecified neighbouring countries. In September two staff members of the Indian High Commission were expelled in connection with the case.
The Lahore High Court, Rawalpindi bench ordered the government to produce Far before the court. At the request of attorney general, the court decided on July 14 to hold the proceedings in camera.
On July 28th after several hearings, the court disposed the petition filed by Humair Humayun, son of the detained journalist, after the Attorney General informed that Far was being tried by a military court and that several hearings had already taken place.
The PFUJ and APNEC expressed serious concern over the detention of Far in mysterious circumstances and his trail by a military court, which they maintained was a violation of fundamental rights guaranteed by the constitution. They also expressed concern over the poor health of the journalist.
On September 9, the military court awarded five years rigorous imprisonment to Far under Pakistan Army Act of 1952. He was shifted to Idiyala jail and restrictions were imposed on his meeting visitors except for close relatives. This was only the second time in the 50-year history of Pakistan that a military court had tried a journalist. The first case was of the late Faiz Ahmed Faiz, chief editor of The Pakistan Times, who was tried by a military court in the 1950’s.
Far’s health deteriorated, as he was not provided proper medical treatment. His son told a local newspaper that he repeatedly told the jail authorities that his father was suffering from Hepatitis C and needed medical treatment. He said he showed his father’s medical reports to the jail authorities but they paid no attention and threw them into the dustbin.
It was only when Far fell unconscious on October 5, that a doctor was called who advised that the journalists be taken immediately to the hospital. Despite the fact that Far was in coma, his fretters were not removed until the next day after the intervention by the Interior Minister, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain.
On October 7 Far was pardoned by the Chief of Army Staff who accepted the appeal by Mrs. Far that if the journalist was not released there was little chance of his recovery.
Laws affecting the media
The biggest disappointment with the new government was in the field of legislation. The PML government also allowed the landmark Freedom of Information ordinance and the Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (EMRA) ordinance to lapse. According to Pakistan’s constitution, ordinances lapse automatically after 120 days if they are not passed by the parliament. These ordinances, promulgated by the caretaker government, were a major step forward in liberalising Pakistan’s media environment.
Freedom of Information Ordinance allowed to lapse
The Freedom of Information Ordinance 1997 promulgated by the caretaker government in January allowed access to public records. The ordinance obligated the government to provide citizens with details of decisions taken by ministries and government departments. The law also covered the superior courts, the armed forces, financial institutions and intelligence agencies.
Before being voted into power, the Pakistan Muslim League (PML) welcomed the ordinance as a positive step forward in making Pakistan a more open and democratic society. The then PML spokesman Mushahid Hussain, who is now the Minister for Information and Media Development, said his party believed that citizens of any civilised society should have the right of access to information from government departments, and if this fundamental right is denied, it is a negation of democratic norms. He gave the assurance that, if voted into power, the PML would make the ordinance even more meaningful and effective.
However, after the PML swept into power, it did not move the ordinance in parliament, and allowed it to lapse on May 29. The reason given was that there was a need to make the ordinance more comprehensive and workable.
There is strong support for the Freedom of Information Ordinance and the government has repeatedly promised to present it to parliament for enactment as a law.
Ordinance to end monopolies in electronic media allowed to lapse
In January 1997, the caretaker government promulgated an ordinance for the establishment of an Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (EMRA). The ordinance provided for the ending of monopolies and exclusive rights over the electronic media. Where such monopolies exist, the licensee would have to apply to EMRA for the revalidation and re-issuance of licences.
The EMRA ordinance would have effectively ended the monopoly granted to Shaheen Pay Television (SPTV) and to FM100 in 1996. The granting of exclusive rights was very controversial, with allegations that the licences had been issued to a friend of Asif Zardari, husband of the then Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, without any transparency or public notice
The ordinance also called for the ending of monopolies for the supply of programmes or advertising to national broadcasters. Broadcasters having such exclusive arrangements would be given 30 days to identify alternative methods to replace the monopoly by a competitive arrangement. This section was aimed at ending the monopoly of Network Television Marketing (NTM) over programmes and advertising on Shalimar Television Network (STN) in which the government was a major shareholder.
EMRA was to facilitate the establishment and operation of the electronic media by developing criteria to be used in considering a licence application. EMRA would invite competitive bids through an open and transparent process for granting licences for radio and television stations. The operators of radio and television stations would have to ensure a balance of information, education and entertainment, except in cases where the applicant proposed to operate specialised channels.
Although PML government has repeatedly promised freedom for the electronic media, it did not present the EMRA ordinance to the National Assembly and allowed it to lapse in May 1997.
Instead of introducing the EMRA ordinance which would have ended monopolies and opened up the electronic media to the private sector the government, unfortunately, chose to take to take administrative action against SPTV, FM-100 and NTM.
Offices of private radio and TV channel sealed, directors arrested
On 16 July 1997, the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) raided the Islamabad and Karachi offices of the private radio station FM-100 and the television channel Shaheen Pay TV (SPTV), and arrested five persons. The raids were conducted on the directives of the Ehtesab (accountability) Cell at the Prime Minister’s Secretariat.
Five senior officials, including the two directors, were arrested. The directors, Mohammed Ali Pasha and Abbas Rizvi, were taken to Islamabad for interrogation by the Special Investigating Unit (SIU).
The FIA also sealed the record that would allegedly incriminate Javed Pasha, the chief executive of the company. Javed Pasha, who was given the license for FM-100 and SPTV, left the country immediately after the dismissal of Benazir Bhutto’s government last year.
STN cancels contract with NTM
The Shalimar Recording and Broadcasting Company (SRBC) on November 9 stopped telecasting programmes and advertisements of Network Television Marketing (NTM) alleging that the agreements in this connection were based on “undue influence and coercion” by the previous government.
According to SRBC, the agreements were made without resort to public tendering thus entitling NTM to air time on all present and future Shalimar Television Network (STN) stations throughout Pakistan for a period of ten years, despite the insistence of the company’s board of directors that they be publicly tendered.
A letter from Mr. Khalid Hasan, Managing Director and Chief Executive of SRBC to the NTM Chief Executive said that the SRBC Board of Directors had decided to terminate agreements because “the legal and contractual rights of Shalimar were violated as the agreements were bulldozed through by the employment of undue influence and political pressure.”
However, on December 5, the Lahore High Court declared the termination of NTM’s contract by SRBCas unlawful and illegal. NTM had argued that the 10-year contract was valid until the year 2004 and the termination of the contract without any prior notice had been manoeuvred by the government, which holds 57% of STN’s shares.
The Anti-Terrorist Act, passed is a step backward for the Pakistani media. The act calls for rigorous imprisonment for up to seven years for using abusive or insulting words, or possessing or distributing written or recorded material, with the intent to stir up sectarian hatred. The police do not require a warrant to seize such material.
The Registration of Printing Press and Publication Ordinance (RPPPO)
The Registration of Printing Press and Publication Ordinance (RPPPO) was promulgated in 1988 by the caretaker government. This ordinance was widely welcomed by the media as it repealed the dreaded Press and Publication Ordinance (PPO). According to the Pakistani constitution, an ordinance lapses automatically after 120 days unless it is passed as a legislative bill by parliament or is repromulgated by the president on behalf of the government. The RPPPO was not presented to parliament and was routinely repromulgated every four months.
However, in March 1997, when the then President Farooq Leghari repromulgated the ordinance, it created a controversy as the newly elected government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif claimed that the President had acted on his own without the authority of the government. The media also felt that the time had come for the press to have a greater degree of freedom than was envisioned in the RPPPO. The ordinance was, therefore, allowed to lapse.
In April, a committee comprising representatives from the Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors (CPNE), the Ministry of Information and Media Development and the Ministry of Law and Justice was constituted to propose amendments to RPPPO. The committee was also to propose suggestions for the formation of a press council as a statutory body to curb yellow journalism.
An agreement was supposed to have been reached between representatives of the government, editors and newspaper owners in August 1997 to pave the way for the establishment of the press council and for the adoption of a code of ethics. In February 1998, the government produced and sought comments on a draft law for establishing a 15-member press council.
However, disagreements cropped up between the government and the CPNE. Speaking at the roundtable discussion organised by Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF) in connection with the Word Press Freedom Day in 1998 on the freedom of information acts, press councils and codes of ethics, Mehmudul Aziz, Acting President of the CPNE, said that the government proposal of the press council could only be considered after the freedom of information act, and the RPPPO, with amendments proposed by the CPNE, are passed by the parliament. He said it was also the stand of the CPNE that any code of ethics for the press must also apply to the official media including the electronic media.
The electronic media
On July 6, Siddique-ul-Farooq, then press secretary to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, directed the PTV to stop programmes showing mixed dances and vulgar dialogues. He said the electronic media should reflect Islamic values and national culture.
He stressed that the nation should be informed through dramas and interviews of the ill effects of shattered families in the west. He expressed concern over the growing trend of divorce among the educated women and said the Prime Minister had ordered the presentation of dramas to curb this trend.
In October, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif called on the electronic media to eliminate “pop and jeans culture” from the electronic media. The Censor Board acted promptly, and perhaps overzealously, to fulfil the wishes of the Prime Minister. The censor board through a directive issued on October 9 banned a number of musical programmes and game shows including Take-2, Envoy Filmi Duniya, Doosra Chehra and Kitna Pani Many drama serials had to be re-edited to comply with the new directives.
The notification also affected many commercials. The directive said that all commercials “glamorising female models” had to remove the following scenes: touching cheeks with hands and making objectionable gestures, waving hair and swaying, models without duppata (scarf), female appearance giving indecent and vulgar looks and females in jeans and provocative dresses.
However, this policy proved to be counter productive, as viewers chose to watch foreign satellite channels. In 1998 the policy was reversed and pop music was again allowed to be shown on television.
On July 6, the Board of Censors did not allow a song called the alternate national anthem to be played on the state-owned Pakistan Television Corporation (PTV). The song composed by the popular group Janoon was to be aired on the programme Video Countdown. However, the censors told the show producer that the song could not be aired, as it would be “disrespectful” to the national anthem. Salman Ahmed, a member of the group, expressed surprise at the decision as the song had already been aired on STN on Pakistan Day which falls on March 23.
Pakistan Television Corporation (PTV) was criticised of unbalanced coverage of the tussle between Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the then Chief Justice Syed Sajjad Ali Shah. The tussle further divided the judges of the Supreme Court into two groups, and PTV was accused of ignoring the group supporting the Chief Justice while giving undue prominence to the judgements of the judges opposed to him.
The PML government that came into power in the elections called after the dismissal of the Benazir government started a high profile “Ethisab” or accountability, programme for recovering the millions of Dollars, Benazir, her family and associates have allegedly looted from the country. The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), now in the opposition, has repeatedly criticised the state-controlled electronic media for conducting a media trial of the party chairman, and former Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto and her husband Asif Ali Zardari.
Courts and the press
Reporter warned of contempt charges
In January, a three-member inquiry tribunal, investigating the murder of Mir Murtaza Bhutto, brother of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto warned Sarfraz Ahmed, staff reporter of daily Dawn, Karachi that he would face contempt charges if he did not disclose the source of information contained in his newspaper article.
The tribunal felt it necessary to learn the identity of the source as the account of the shooting in the newspaper article differed from the police version. The court said that investigating the case of multiple murders was more important than the journalists’ right to protect the identity of his source.
The All Pakistan Newspaper Employees Confederation (APNEC) and the Karachi Union of Journalists (KUJ) voiced their concern over the court proceedings against Sarfraz Ahmed, and assured him of all possible support.
On February 13, the tribunal decided not to proceed with the contempt charges and said that contempt proceedings against the reporter were not necessary as the source of his information was obvious from the reports he had filed.
Two journalists sentenced for reporting on stolen court records
On December 26 Irfanul Haq and Iftikhar Adil, two journalists of the Lahore based Urdu newspaper Lashkar, were sentenced to six months imprisonment and fined Rs. 5,000 by the Baluchistan High Court in Quetta for reporting the alleged theft of court records.
A lawyer Mohammad Azam Zakroon of Quetta lodged an application against the chief justice of Baluchistan High Court, stating that the files and records regarding the Quetta bench of the Supreme Court of Pakistan had been stolen from the office of the sub-registrar of Supreme Court. The Quetta- based correspondent of Lashkar reported the story and the newspaper ran the news item with the bold headline “Theft case against Chief Justice Baluchistan.” The court summoned Irfanul Haq, chief news editor of Lashkar, and Iftikhar Adil, its publisher and printer from Lahore. The journalists tendered written apologies but the court rejected them.
However, the Adil and Haq were released in January 1998, by a division bench of the Baluchistan High Court after hearing an inter-court appeal against the verdict of a single bench of this court.
Journalist Zahid Ali Qaimkhani acquitted
Zahid Ali Qaimkhani, a journalist of Kandiaro in Sindh province, was released from Sukkur jail on 21 January 1997 after being acquitted by the Sindh High Court on charges of arson. The acquittal set aside the judgement by a lower court, carrying a sentence of five years with a fine of 2,000 rupees (US$ 50).
Zahid Ali Qaimkhani, correspondent of the Pakistan Press International (PPI) news agency and two Sindhi-language newspapers, was victimised for exposing corrupt local officials and had to spend six months in jail. He was charged with setting fire to the local telephone exchange, on the complaint of its supervisor. Mr. Qaimkhani denied the charges and maintained that he had been falsely implicated because he had written about the illegal public telephone office (PCO) run by the complainant.
Mr. Qaimkhani was arrested on January 22, 1996, in Kandiaro but was freed on bail a few days later. In a letter dated January 31, 1996, the deputy commissioner of Naushehro Feroze had asked the telephone authorities to take disciplinary action against the complainant who had tried to “bring in politics in a personal quarrel and tried to excite political hatred.”
On July 23, however, the sessions court in Kandiaro sentenced Qaimkhani to five-and-a-half years imprisonment after finding him guilty of the arson attack. The court ignored a note written on July 10 by the district magistrate of Naushehro Feroze to the district public prosecutor, stating that an inquiry into the complaint revealed that Mr. Qaimkhani was not involved.
In his judgement, the judge of the Sukkur bench of the Sindh High Court, Abdul Hameed Dogar, pointed out many flaws in the judgement of the lower court and said the prosecution had failed to prove the case against Mr. Qaimkhani.
Journalist Farhan Effandi granted bail
Farhan Effandi, the Hyderabad bureau chief of the daily Parcham, was granted bail on 16 February 1997 by the district and session judge for a sum of Rs. 50,000 (US$ 1250). Effandi had been released on a 30-day parole on January 25.
Mr. Effandi had been picked up by paramilitary Rangers from his office on September 14, 1995, and charged with possession of a Kalashinkov rifle and involvement in terrorist activities. There were serious doubts surrounding the legitimacy of the charges and the legal proceedings against Mr. Effandi. The journalist was being tried by the Suppression of Terrorist Activities (STA) court, which did not have the required minimum safeguards for a fair trial. The arresting officer of the Rangers never appeared in court despite repeated summonses, and no independent witnesses were brought forward to testify. Dates for his trial were repeatedly set and postponed and his bail applications rejected. In spite of being seriously ill, Effandi was not provided with proper medical care.
After the dismissal of the PPP government in November 1996 the caretaker, government allowed the journalist to be admitted to hospital. On January 25, 1997, the caretaker chief minister of Sindh, Mumtaz Ali Bhutto, visited the ailing journalist and ordered his release on a 30-day parole. After the caretaker government disbanded the special courts, the Effandi’s case was transferred to a regular court, which granted him bail.
Effandi has moved for the quashment of the case against him.
Pakistani journalists detained at Delhi airport
On February 28, senior journalists from Pakistan were detained for over three hours upon arriving at New Delhi’s Indira Gandhi Airport. Among them were prominent journalists Mahmud Sham, editor of Pakistan’s largest circulated daily Jang and Ms. Rehana Hakim, editor of the monthly Newsline.
According to Sham, for three hours, immigration authorities would not allow the journalists to exit the airport. When the journalists protested to the authorities and demanded permission to fly back home, the immigration authorities said they were checking with concerned headquarters. Authorities would not give any reason for not allowing the journalists to enter the Indian capital. After approximately three hours, the journalists were allowed to enter India.
Ironically, the journalists had flown to India to participate in a dialogue aimed at improving relations between the two countries, scheduled in Delhi and Bombay. The dialogue is a follow-up of similar meetings in Karachi and Lahore held earlier.