Press under siege – Media needs a united front -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

Press under siege – Media needs a united front

Statements by the US presidential hopefuls saying that Pakistan might be invaded to hunt down terrorists have emerged as a new threat to Pakistan. Later, President Bush telephoned President Pervez Musharraf in a bid to lighten the air of insecurity and suspicion regarding the US support and respect towards Pakistan’s sovereignty.

Such an anti-Pakistan stance from a candidate for Presidential office got a bleak response from Pakistan, where the government has annoyed its citizens in an effort to satisfy the US as the most loyal ally in the war against terrorism. The external pressure was evident from such statements. Internally, the situation could not have been ‘better’ after Operation Silence and a series of suicide bombings that killed scores of people.

In this tense situation, where a defined role of the media is required, many responsibilities fall on the shoulders of the media, especially electronic media. Recently, in a meeting of the Pakistan Broadcasters Association (PBA) and Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA), the agreement was reached not to show scenes of violence and terrorism as well as blood-stained spots to avert traumatising children and creating fear and harassment. PBA was assigned the task of evolving a code of conduct for television channels.

This agreement, taken in good spirit no doubt, is an impressive development where all stakeholders are involved and voluntarily agree to respect values. The earlier attempts of PEMRA to ban live coverage and issue show cause notices left the channel with little to do. This move in which TV channels have accepted to avoid showing gory scenes would definitely leave a strong and positive impact, with a note that truth has much force in words.

The rule of law, much debated these days, seems to have vanished from the scene. Last week, Kharan Press Club, which is located in the northwest of Balochistan in a desert, was burnt down, allegedly by the district nazim. Recent floods have played havoc in Balochistan and NWFP and relief funds have been transferred to these flood-hit areas. The Council of the All Balochistan Press Clubs (CABPC) alleged that the nazim and local administration were angry at the print media for publishing news that disclosed misuse of relief funds for flood victims. In this episode, two journalists were also arrested, which sparked many protests and demonstrations.

Burning down the press club is a direct blow to the freedom of the press. This case involved the greater public interest. The whole action was in violation of the freedom of the press, freedom of expression and human rights. People were denied their right to live and their funds were misused. The devolution of power was aimed at improving the law and order situation. On the contrary, the high-handedness of nazims is debilitating the social structure and encroaching upon the rights of the print and electronic media. Complete transparency and accountability of such nazims to prevent others from committing these mistakes is the need of the hour. Punishing those who destabilise the social structure, infringe on the freedom of the press and our right to know is a possible venture to compensate what happened in Kharan.

India, the biggest democracy, is also dealing with militancy and separatist movements. Media is the ultimate and regular target of militant groups operating in India. Guwahati, one of the main cities in eastern India, faced a tough time when The Sangai Express, the largest circulated English-language newspaper in the state, was directly targeted by militants. A banned militant group called PREPAK delivered a parcel bomb at the office of the Sangai Express after it published a statement. The response came from the journalists’ fraternity, which was so united that all newspapers stopped publication. Reporters in the northeastern state went on indefinite strike in protest at such threats by militants.

The media in Imphal not only suffered from the excesses of the militants but also government penalties, which caused more problems for the media. All Manipur Working Journalists Union (AMWJU) has served the state government an ultimatum. The state government ordered to ban the publication of militant-related material. Such order snatched whatever of the freedom of expression was left in the state. It also took with it people’s right to know about the conflict situation in Manipur, where media is the only means to inform people.

The order said any published material “directly attributed to unlawful organizations, organized gangs, terrorists and terrorist-related organizations considered to be subversive and a threat to the integrity of the state and the country” would be confiscated by the government under section 95 of the CrPC. This order gives the authorities the right to search media organizations and confiscate material and stop their work under the pretext of publishing material on the above mentioned issues. This case put a lot of pressure on the chief minister to resolve the issue as journalists observed a strike and only resumed work after five days.

Pakistan is a state which has been ruled by dictators for more than 30 years. Both India and Pakistan have put their media under siege in one way or the other. Media in these countries has been facing pressures by state and non-state actors. Attack on the people’s right to know and press freedom portrays a very dark picture, where a ray of hope appears when journalists stand united. No pressure can survive long if the media presents a united front.
Source: south Asian media net