Government chooses to terrorise press -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

Government chooses to terrorise press

KARACHI – While the country is facing high tide of terrorism, the government has chosen to terrorise the press by further blackening the existing draconian Defamation Ordinance 2002, stated the APNS spokesman.

Syed Faseih Iqbal, Acting President, and Mohammad Aslam Kazi, Secretary General, All Pakistan Newspapers Society, have unequivocally rejected both the motivation and the rationale contained within the proposed bill of amendment to the Defamation Ordinance 2002. They have rejected the proposed bill and described it as undemocratic and ‘unethical black press law’.

The APNS office-bearers recalled that the Ordinance was rejected by the coalition of APNS and CPNE and the then Minister for Information Nisar Memon and Minister for Law Khalid Ranjha had agreed in a joint meeting with the APNS and CPNE held on October 8, 2002, to amend Clause 9 of the Ordinance to provide a fine of Rs 10,000 and punishment of simple imprisonment in case the damages were not paid. It was astonishing to note that instead of incorporating the agreed amendment, the concerned ministries have recommended sweeping powers to politicians, ministers and officials to get reporters, editors, publishers and distributors jailed for five years and fine of Rs 500,000. The proposed amendment also binds the court to decide the defamation cases in three months; thus the judiciary has also been subjected to restrictions in dispensing justice.

The APNS office-bearers are of the considered opinion that the present government is bent upon completing the unfinished agenda of 2002 to strangulate press freedom through a backdoor attempt to transform the Article 19, the vital tenet of the Constitution of Pakistan that guarantees freedom of expression and freedom of press and sets up the watchdog role of the press in a democratic dispensation.

They noted that the press expected a better govt-press relations during the prime ministership of Ch Shujaat Hussain who had a good track record as a supporter of press while he held the portfolio of Ministry of Information in the past.

They regretted that the concerned ministries in the tenure of Ch Shujaat Hussain were trying to regulate the press through a mixture of draconian laws, kangaroo press codes and complete blackout of all information relating to the wrong doings of the executives and public figures.

The Acting President and the Secretary General, APNS, have observed that after the introduction of Defamation Bill, the press finds itself wondering that what follows might lead to prosecution. Successive governments have reacted sharply whenever the press has brought under scrutiny important members of the ruling party, elected or unelected heads of government, and powerful public servants.

In a country with a highly secretive bureaucracy, it should be no surprise that press reports may not always be entirely flawless. To ensure complete accuracy, the government’s working has to be made transparent, which has not been done.

The Freedom of Information Ordinance which was promulgated in 2002 was in fact a ‘curtailment of freedom’ ordinance and was rejected by all press organisations.

The ministries of Information and Law had agreed with the APNS and the CPNE in November 2002 that the Ordinance would be amended in consultation with the press bodies after the induction of elected government.

It is deplorable that instead of ensuring free flow of information through an acceptable Information Law, the government has backed out of its earlier agreements and has introduced a more black press law. In view of complaints that the civil courts take long to decide the defamation cases, the government had agreed with the APNS and the CPNE to the formation of a ‘press council’ which has not yet been established for evident reasons. Had the press council been formed there would be no need to introduce the defamation laws.

Syed Faseih Iqbal and Mohammad Aslam Kazi have noted that the Prime Minister, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, had recently assured that the objectionable clauses of the Defamation Bill would be discussed with the press bodies and their concerns would be accommodated.The APNS office-bearers have requested the Prime Minister, Ch Shujaat Hussein, to immediately hold a composite dialogue with the APNS on all issues confronting the newspaper industry in the country. They also urged upon the press bodies, human rights organisations and other democratic forces to support the press in its struggle against the undemocratic press laws to ensure a viable, objective and free press in the county.
Source: Business Recorder