Democracy can’t be ‘chopped up like vegetables’: Saad | Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Pakistan Press Foundation

Democracy can’t be ‘chopped up like vegetables’: Saad

Pakistan Press Foundation

LAHORE: Senior journalists and political leaders here on Sunday condemned the attack on Jang Multan Resident Editor Zafar Aaheer by masked men and the burning of Jang vehicles across the country.

Speaking at a seminar, organised at the Lahore Press Club on Sunday, they expressed solidarity with Geo/Jang Group and Hamid Mir and called upon the PML-N government to re-establish its writ in the country.

Federal Minister for Railways Khwaja Saad Rafique said he supports Hamid Mir and has always maintained a close association with the senior anchorperson. He called his father Waris Mir a patriotic citizen. Saad said Hamid Mir had advised him when he was going out of line in dealing with the trial of General Pervez Musharraf and said Mir embodies the values of Islam, democracy and patriotism.

However, Saad said the media in Pakistan is engaged in a dirty war with itself that threatens the freedom of the press. He said those committing acts of vandalism, including the burning of Jang vehicles, would not benefit and have to ultimately lose the war on free speech.

Saad said the media in Pakistan was highly sensationalist and some anchors and journalists were deeply unethical and were misleading the public. The minister said the culture of breaking news and ratings had destroyed the authenticity and quality of the electronic media. He said the media in Pakistan was behaving like the Supreme Court and delivering judgements on politicians on baseless allegations. He said most media house owners were tax-evaders and had opened TV channels as their public relations wings. He criticised the display of the DG ISI’s picture on Geo News after the Hamid Mir attack and also criticised certain TV channels for showing the blasphemous video again and again to their viewers.

The minister said the government was playing the role of a necessary fire brigade between the Jang Group and the military establishment. He said this is important in order to lessen tensions and stop things from getting worse. Saad said democracy is not a gift and has been earned by Pakistan’s civilian leadership after great heartache and trial. This should not be undermined. He termed the talks in London highly regrettable.

He reminded Imran Khan that the PTI won the elections in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa under the same ‘fraudulent system’. He urged setting up of a media accountability mechanism in media houses and invited Tahirul Qadri to come forward instead of avoiding the government and holding ‘dharnas’.

In his telephonic address to the seminar, Hamid Mir condemned the attack on Aaheer and said the culprits wanted to curb press freedom. He said Aaheer’s attackers were the same who had attacked him on April 19, who had thrown petrol bombs on Jang vehicles and burnt Jang newspaper bundles. He said his patience and commitment to journalism had enhanced due to the support received from civil society and the journalists’ community. He reiterated the need for unity in Pakistan’s journalist community in such testing times. He said the recent events in the country reminded him of General Ziaul Haq’s dark era when journalists were flogged and sent to jails. He said there should not be any ambiguity about those who were responsible for the attack on Zafar Aaheer, who were behind the illegal suspension of Geo TV networks’ suspension through cable operators, who hurled threats at the Lahore Press Club President Arshad Ansari and attacked journalists in the past.

Hamid said these elements wanted to create division in the media industry and they had succeeded in pitting media outlets and journalists against each other. He said different cable operators told journalists that they were ‘helpless’ as they were facing severe pressure from unnamed circles. He thanked parliamentarians who supported him during his tough times. However, he added, condemnation was not enough and his attackers should be exposed and brought to book. Hamid said the police should also look into Aaheer attack case and arrest the assailants at the earliest.

Hamid said the Karachi police were afraid of arresting his attackers, despite knowing their identity and whereabouts. He said other journalists have also been approached by the intelligence agencies, and Arshad Ansari had been threatened via a letter to stop holding events in favour of Hamid Mir and press freedom. He said over 30,000 journalists have been approached by the intelligence agencies in this regard.

Hamid said such elements were mistaken if they believe that by doing so they could silence and suppress the media. He said the Pakistani media was not like the army generals who had surrendered in Bangladesh in the 1971 war.

Hamid said the civilian government is weak and the military has imposed a de facto martial law in the country. He said the judiciary’s orders are not being respected and it is the responsibility of the civilian government to establish its writ and expose his attackers. He said he had given all evidence to the judicial commission set up to investigate the April 19 attack on him.

Hamid Mir said a Taliban hit list comprising names of journalists being circulated by the interior ministry among few chosen channels should be provided to all media outlets. He said his name was on top of the list, followed by journalists from different media groups.

He also condemned the newly formed alliance of Tahirul Qadri and the Chaudhrys which will weaken democracy in the country. Hamid saluted the LPC and journalists in Pakistan for their courage despite opposition from all quarters. He said the country’s establishment is in the business of branding people as traitors, especially sincere and professional journalists. He said the struggle of the Jang Group is a nationwide struggle for democracy, press freedom and the right to life of all citizens.

Hamid Mir also condemned the murder of HRCP Multan coordinator and lawyer Rashid Rehman last month. He concluded his speech by chanting “Pakistan Zindabad’ and saying an attack on one journalist will be taken as an attack on all in the community.

Kasur Press Club President Khadim Ali Khokhar, Okara Press Club President Munir Chaudhry and Sheikhupura Press Club President Shahbaz also condemned attempts to shut down Geo and the Jang Group, and expressed solidarity with senior anchorperson Hamid Mir.

Jamaat-e-Islami representative Farooq Chohan said his party was committed to press freedom and would not participate in meetings taking place in London between Tahirul Qadri, Pervaiz Elahi and Ch Shujaat Hussain. He said the JI believes in complete press freedom and Liaquat Baloch had met Hamid Mir in hospital after the attack in Karachi. He said JI chief Sirajul Haq firmly believes that imposition of a ban on Geo TV would be illegal and immoral.

He said former Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry had earned the wrath of the intelligence agencies for taking up the missing persons’ case and today the media is facing similar pressures due to the same reason. He said the JI would not take part in the London talks because the party respects the democratic process and the mandate of the PML-N government. He said the alliance currently being formed in London was part of a conspiracy to gain a safe passage for the American CIA in the region.

Chohan said the Jang Group had tendered an apology over the eight-hour transmission about the agencies role which followed the attack on Hamid Mir and the blasphemy charge. Even then he added, efforts were under way to shut down the media group. He urged PM Nawaz Sharif to re-establish his writ over the country in order to escape General Pervez Musharraf’s fate today in judicial custody.

South Asian Free Media Association (Safma) General Secretary Imtiaz Alam said he had fought for democracy for 25 years and the destination was still nowhere in sight. He said the media in Pakistan needs to develop a code of conduct, refrain from hate speech, and encourage responsible and sensitive reporting.

Alam said we are happy that the army is fighting against terrorists. But it is a matter of concern that the banned organisations were staging demonstrations in favour of the army, he said adding that we are moving towards an unlawful state. He said the chief justice of Pakistan should take suo motu notice of the attack on Geo.

He said Pakistan’s own media has defeated itself in the fight for press freedom. Alam said Pakistan’s civilian government needs to re-establish its writ over the country as we cannot accept the bullet power of non-state actors. He said the attack on Hamid Mir is also of concern to Pakistan’s masses as it shows the state’s failure to protect a citizen’s right to life and a media consumer’s right to information.

Imtiaz Alam said we cannot compromise on fundamental rights and Pakistan can no longer be a ‘graveyard of democracy’. He also condemned the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) on grounds of independence and fairness.

Alam said any attack on any anchorperson from any TV channel would have drawn a similar response as has happened in the case of Hamid Mir. He said owners of media outlets are engaged in a self-destructive rivalry in the country today. He also condemned the conspiracy theories being aired on Hamid Mir’s wounds and said Geo’s closure would lead to the economic death of 50,000 workers.

Alam said legal ways should be sought in criticising Geo TV and Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid should not just attend rallies but also deliver on his promises. He said the Pakistan Army, intelligence agencies, and Jang Group can resolve their problems through dialogue. Alam said in the 21st century a ban on any media channel is unacceptable. He said the attempts to close Jang Group is a test of civil-military relations by the army and that All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS) should wake up from its slumber and take an action.

Punjab Union of Journalists President Waseem Farooq said the PUJ has gone on hunger strike, borne flogging and imprisonments to defend press freedom. He said the PUJ is carrying the torch of senior journalists Khawar Naeem Hashmi, Nisar Usmani, and Iqbal Jafri. He said media house owners should implement labour laws and give their employees decent wages if they need them to participate in protests for press freedom. He said working journalists in the Jang Group need support from society to ensure that their jobs are not endangered.

Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors (CPNE) Vice President Shaheen Qureshi told the seminar that Geo TV is practically shut down due to the role of the cable operators and subsequent drop in viewers. He said this is undemocratic as it deprives viewers of the right to information. Qureshi said advertisers are pulling back and Jang’s circulation in most areas has come to a halt. He said only areas occupied by foreign diplomats in Islamabad get The News, which is a clever move to mislead the international media into thinking all is well with regards to press freedom.

Qureshi said PML-N MNA Tehmina Daultana in a Safma meeting had assured him that she would communicate these issues to PM Nawaz Sharif. The CPNE vice-president said information of Hamid Mir’s arrival in Karachi and work schedule could only have been accessed by intelligence agencies. He told the media on Sunday that Mir’s reporting on Balochistan’s missing persons long march and coverage of Musharraf’s trial had angered certain elements. He said the attack on Mir was intended as a lesson for Pakistan’s media.

Qureshi urged the government to not be helpless as it had won the mandate of 180 million Pakistanis in 2013 elections. He said the country’s judiciary is being disrespected as evidenced in the banners hung in Islamabad’s red zone with names of Supreme Court judges. He said Jang Group is not in need of certificates of patriotism from PTI leader Imran Khan. He said the group is not an enemy of the government and that democracy and press freedom are natural allies.

Geo News Lahore Bureau Chief Khawar Naeem Hashmi lamented the division in the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) and said both disputing parties need to come together and resolve their dispute. Hashmi said he does not want any division in the media unions to be inherited by successive generations and both wings of the PFUJ should accept each other. He said they should heed Hamid Mir’s advice to the journalist community and stop infighting. Hashmi said that this is not a fight of media house owners but of all working journalists.

PTI Punjab President Ejaz Chaudhry, in response to Shaheen Qureshi’s comments on Imran Khan, said press freedom is not safeguarding the right to insult politicians only. He said PTI’s demand for inquiry into election rigging should not be set aside and that the party was committed to press freedom. He said Hamid Mir is a hardworking and loved journalist.

Lahore Press Club President Arshad Ansari said it was a tragedy that Hamid Mir’s perpetrators are yet to be arrested and condemned the attack on the Jang Resident Editor in Multan. Ansari said whereas divisions in the PFUJ are unfortunate they should be resolved in meetings mediated by veterans in the field. Ansari said that Geo had practically been shut down and it could result in joblessness among journalists.

Former Supreme Court Bar Association President Abid Hassan Minto also expressed solidarity with Hamid Mir and called out the ‘deep state’ for its covert attempts to silence the media. The lawyer also said protests being held in support of the army are futile as the public knows who is behind organising these protests. Minto said the army according to Pakistan’s 1973 Constitution is bound to serve the country and not intervene in political affairs.

News Desk adds: Later, talking to Geo News, Saad Rafique said the Geo TV sought a pardon several times for playing a Qawwali once. Those who re-telecast the same clip 70 times were feeling no shame.

He said the freedom of expression was threatened by the same billionaires who opened TV channels and newspapers to protect their black money. He said batons and the useless use of the TV remote were not in the interest of the country. Those who were burning the newspapers would get nothing but shame.

He said Pakistan did not get democracy in charity and democracy was not a vegetable (gaajar, mooli) which could be chopped off. He said: “We couldn’t say before the time of Musharraf, but now we can say that it is the right of the PML-N to say that it was involved in the process to restore democracy in the country.” He said the necks of politicians were thin, so they could be beaten by anyone.

Saad said the retired chief justice of Pakistan could be ridiculed by the retired general Pervez Musharraf could not be laughed at and nothing could be said about him. He said the government was working like a fire brigade and it showed a positive attitude in the current circumstances. He said that by not joining the London alliance, Imran Khan took a wise decision after a long time. He said the Chaudhry brothers and the Maulana could not do anything.

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