Government committed to free Press: Jabbar -
Pakistan Press Foundation

Government committed to free Press: Jabbar

LAHORE- Former Federal Information Minister Javed Jabbar has contended that the present military government has been committed to free Press and has taken a number of initiatives to strengthen it since its inception last October.

Jabbar, who recently resigned from his office, made this statement in his reply to a letter written by Mr Johann P. Fritz, Director, International Press Institute (IPI) to Chief Executive Pervez Musharraf on September 29.

The text of Javed Jabbar’s letter, a copy of which has also been sent to President APNS is as follows:

This is in response to your letter dated 29 September 2000 addressed to General Pervez Musharraf, Chief Executive of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan with a copy marked to the undersigned. The delay in reply is deeply regretted.

While I have for personal reasons resigned with effect from 13 October, 2000 from the posts of Minister of Information and Media Development and Adviser to the Chief Executive of Pakistan on National Affairs, I am addressing this letter to you as the subject of your own communication concerned events that occurred during my tenure at the Ministry.

The office of the Chief Executive may be separately addressing a reply to you. My letter is on my own behalf and does not formally represent the views of the Chief Executive. At the outset, I would like to record that the Dawn newspaper is an important journal and its continued, unfettered publication is a vital part of the free Press of Pakistan.

However, the editorial and main agreement policies of Dawn are a source of for they reflect at different times, a bias and an imbalance unbecoming of a newspaper that claims an independent position. As a citizen of Pakistan who has consistently campaigned for, and rendered practical support to the cause of a free and independent Press, I strongly condemn the attempt by the management of Dawn to completely misrepresent an inspection visit to its premises in Karachi as being an attempt to intimidate and coerce an independent newspaper.

This willful misrepresentation has created an entirely misleading and incorrect perception amongst leading organisations and eminent individuals both at home and overseas such as at IPI. Please note that similar inspection visits were paid to several other newspaper offices. No complaint similar to Dawn was made by any other newspaper. A relatively minor administrative incident has been converted and magnified out of all proportion into a high-pitched piece of theatrics.

You may be able to assess the veracity of the claims that I make in the preceding paragraphs by noting the fact that elected distinguished representatives of the free press in Pakistan have themselves acknowledged that, never before in the 53 year history of our country has there been as much freedom of the press as has existed during the past 12 months.

I invite your attention to the statements made by Mr. Mir Shakeel-ur-Rehman, President of the All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS) while speaking in Karachi on 2nd October, 2000 on the occasion of the Annual Awards Ceremony of the All Pakistan Newspapers Society at which General Pervez Musharraf was the chief guest. While acknowledging this truth, the President of APNS did not mince words when presenting a very critical appraisal of other aspects of the government’s policies and programmes in further confirmation of the fact that we have an open environment of candid and uninhibited discourse in our country.

On 10 October, 2000 at a press conference addressed by General Pervez Musharraf in Lahore during which extremely blunt questions were put and answered without evasion, and whose recording was telecast and broadcast in almost its entirety on radio and TV channels the same night, the President of the Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors, Mr. Arif Nizami also commented, before putting a question to the Chief Executive, that there exists unprecedented freedom of the press in our country at this time.

It was also acknowledged that, unlike past practices the present government has made no overt or covert attempt to coerce or harass any journalist or newspaper for being critical about government’s policies.

I invite your attention to the text of the statement released on behalf of the Government of Pakistan on 29 September, 2000. I take this opportunity to emphasize that my own addressing of a letter to the editor and to the management of Dawn on 19 September, 2000 was inevitable because Dawn itself violated a basic principle of ethical journalism when it failed to publish L contradiction to a defamatory allegation published earlier in its columns. Regrettably, Dawn has also willfully misrepresented the contents and purpose of my letter to make it appear as if it was an intimidate Dawn.

On several occasions in the recent past, Dawn, has also omitted to publish contradictions of incorrect news published in its columns or has suppressed news reports on various policy issues.

A most recent instance of misrepresentation by Dawn is the report published on 15 October 2000 regarding my resignation. The report speculatively attributed it to “serious differences” between the newly-appointed Additional Secretary In-charge of the Ministry and myself. The fact is that no “serious differences” exist. When a contradiction was issued clarifying this and other factors, virtually all other newspapers published this contradiction on 16 and 17 October except for Dawn.

For the record, on a non-official basis, I also happen to be the founding convener of the Citizens Media Commission of Pakistan whose Chairman is the former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Dr. Nasirn Hasan Shah. This is the first independent citizens forum set up in our country in 1997 to monitor and analyze media policies and issues from a public interest perspective as we need a non-media and a non-official forum to, amongst other functions, hold media accountable for the exercise of their freedom.

On a regional level, I am the founding chairman of the South Asian Media Association (SAMA), established in Colombo in 1991 and so far the only forum that brings together editors, scholars and electronic media specialists from all seven South Asian countries. SAMA has also been associated with extensive work for reform of media laws and for the strengthening of the freedom of the Press.

Source: The Nation