Attacks on media may harm democracy, Safma moot told
KARACHI: Politicians, journalists and activists affiliated with various groups of the civil society on Tuesday expressed concern over unremitting attacks on the freedom of expression – freedom of the press in particular – which, they warned, if continued could break the very framework of the hard-won democracy.
“Our infant democracy which we have won with our endurance and hardships for decades, is at a stake if attacks on the freedom of expression, freedom of the press in particular, are allowed to swoop on us continuously,” said a resolution passed by the participants at a round table conference titled ‘Threats to Freedom of Expression and Democracy’ organised by the South Asian Free Media Association (Safma) at the Arts Council of Pakistan Karachi.
Representatives of the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and opposition party in the Sindh Assembly, Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf (PTI) and several other political groups, journalists, media professionals and rights activists attended the meeting.
In another resolution, the participants expressed their discontent over what they called; ‘the internal civil war’ among various media houses which caused irreparable damage to the freedom of the press.
They agreed that they would apply certain limitations on themselves if a code of conduct was drafted in the light of the best policies coupled with widening of the scope of freedoms on the part of the state.
They called upon the government to ensure that the life of journalists – like the rest of the citizens – as enshrined in the constitution was protected and make it sure that attacks on the media individuals should not sustain longer.
“This includes all, everyone in the media, including Hamid Mir and other journalists who have been attacked. Any such attack is nothing, but a crime against humanity,” said Imtiaz Alam, secretary general of Safma.
He said journalists were against any confrontation between the armed forces and the media.
“We would like to ask the national security institutions that we don’t want to confront against them, but in fact, we want to help them in all the matters where we are able to.”
The meeting passed another resolution which called the ban on private Geo television as ‘arbitrary’ and said such actions on the part of the state could not be endorsed. In the situations like this, it added, if it deemed necessary, the authorities should opt for due process instead of taking haphazard and quick actions that could not do justice in the end.
“The struggle we are going through now is not merely a battle among media owners, but it is a struggle for the very economic survival of our community. It is our economic battle,” said Mr Alam.
The gathering unanimously agreed that some media houses had surrendered their own freedom in their frenzy to oppose their rivals by all available means.
Provincial Education Minister Nisar Ahmed Khuhro said the freedom of expression was a fundamental right of all the citizens and the media was an integral part of democracy.
“Any session of an elected assembly, which does not allow media to cover, is not more than an in-camera session, where things are being hidden from the general public,” he said.
He said his party was a staunch supporter of the media freedom and had a history of fighting for the freedom of the press along with the journalist community.
He said parliament was the supreme institution as enshrined in the constitution, yet media did not spare it from criticism. “Then, why not the media criticises its own wrong deeds, it should monitor judiciary and other institutions as well.”
MQM’s leader Haider Rizvi criticised the electronic media that ‘sold its freedom of expression to the political parties to fetch huge money’.
“These TV channels made a fast buck during the last elections. They milked Rs7.5 billion during three months in the run up to elections last year by selling their freedom of expression.”
He said it was marketing team of a given media house instead of editors who decided editorial policy.
“Media is purchased and sold here while it should be free but responsible. It is a matter of fact that if you don’t regulate yourself someone will come and regulate you,” he added.
Shahrukh Hasan, managing director of the Jang media group, said the proceedings that led to slap a 15-day ban and a Rs10 million fine on Geo TV was a battle between those who supported the way the country was being governed for six decades since its inception and those who supported the present system, where democracy had finally taken its roots.
He demanded to know the identity of those who forced cable operators to shun his channel against the directives of the court and the government and beat the hawkers to stop them distributing his group’s newspapers.
Eminent psychiatrist Dr Haroon Ahmed said media and civil society should launch a programme to get people aware about the significance of the freedom of expression.
Several politicians, journalists, press union leaders and rights activists also spoke on the occasion.