Parliament empowered to change Press Council laws -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

Parliament empowered to change Press Council laws

LAHORE- The country’s parliament is fully empowered to alter laws pertaining to Press Council and the notion that these cannot be changed, is incorrect.

This was stated by Syed Anwar Mahmood, Federal Secretary Information while speaking at concluding session of National Conference on the topic of ‘Freedom of Media and Governance’ held under the auspices of South Asian Free Media Association (SAFMA) here on December 20, 2002.

He stated that with Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors fully involved, the process of framing Press Council Laws begin in the country 32 years back. He promised to submit recommendations made by SAFMA regarding this council to the newly elected government.

Earlier, the Conference through a resolution noted with regrets that there exists deceptive nature of the apparent media freedom in Pakistan. It pointed that instead of invoking the law, the government has been restoring to strong arm and third degree methods to intimidate and threaten the media into submission.

Referring to arrest of Rehmat Shah Afridi Owner-Publisher of ‘The Frontier Post’, the Conference demanded government to transfer him to prison in Peshawar. Pointing to the murder of journalist Shahid Soomro in Sindh, the Conference demanded immediate justice in the matter.

Further concern was shown by the Conference in the case of Karachi-based journalist Ghulam Hasnain, who has had to flee the country along with his family after an article he wrote in Newsline magazine that exposed the links of criminals to the Government institutions.

Similarly, other reporters in major cities as well as in rural areas and villages continue to face intimidation, phone tapping, and threats, including to their lives. The relatives of former editor, The News, Shaheen Sehbai are implicated in false cases and persecuted apparently in a bid to punish him, are source of serious concern, that need to rectified, the Conference demanded. The SAFMA, quoting case of intimidation also lamented calling of journalist MAK Lodhi along with other senior journalists in a case in Anti-Terrorist court recently.

Severally criticising new form of press advice, the Conference condemned the attempt to censor the media by not allowing journalists to conduct independent investigations into issues of national importance.

The Conference terming media freedom, pluralism and democracy as inconceivable unless working journalists have complete job and economic security, declared that no law or executive decision of the Government will be acceptable which circumvents, endangers or reduces the Newspaper Employees Act of 1973, or any other law or policy that protects the rights of working journalists.

Alarmed at the growing influence of market forces on editorial policies of newspapers, the Conference urged the code of ethics to make media free from business interests of advisors and their clients.

In a draft declaration approved by the Conference on the occasion indicated with right of freedom of expression not being realised, new ordinances related to the media betray lack of comprehension of the essential ingredients of freedom of expression.

The declaration terming new media laws being extra-constitutional and lacking legitimate sanction stated the Freedom of Information Ordinance, instead of removing the flaws and deficiencies in the earlier drafts, makes access to information extraordinarily difficult.

The Press, Newspapers, News Agency and Book Registration Ordinance is a rehash of the infamous Press and Publications Ordinance and retains the authoritarian regimes’ practice of treating a declaration as a license, brings the page-editor of a news paper under the purview of a punitive measures, and fails to free the media of the constrains against which all sections of media community have been agitating for decades, declaration adds.

The declaration condemning new Defamation Ordinance as unnecessary innovation in presence of already existing laws pertaining to defamation in Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) criticised Press Council of Pakistan Ordinance.

Criticising the Electronic Media Regulatory Authority as arbitrary and in violation of international standards, the Conference in its Draft Declaration termed the Associated Press of Pakistan Corporation Ordinance a blatant repudiation of government’s pledge at the time of news agency’s take-over under the APP (Taking over) ordinance of 1961 from a newspaper proprietors’ trust.

The Conference in its declaration also appealed to all elements of civil society to join hands in defence of freedom of expression in the Country.

In various committees formed by SAFMA, Reports on Freedom of Information (Sadia Bokhari), Press Registration Law (Hussein Naqi), Defamation Law (I.A.Rehman), Press Council Law (Saida Fazal), Electronic Media & Regulatory Authority (Shireen Pasha), APP and PBC (Afzal Khan) were presented in the Conference.

The Conference regarding Freedom of Media also resolved to form a lobbyist group in parliament.

Asma Jilani, Human rights activist also spoke on the occasion. Zia-u-Din a senior journalist also took charge as new head of SAFMA in the Conference.

Source: Business Recorder
Date:12/22/2002