Govt denial of Asif's remarks disputed ‘Journalists are the biggest terrorists' -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

Govt denial of Asif’s remarks disputed ‘Journalists are the biggest terrorists’

ISLAMABAD: The opposition Monday blasted the government in the National Assembly over remarks attributed to President Asif Ali Zardari, terming journalists as “terrorists”, as the Presidency and federal minister for information denied president made such statement.

However, the Frontier businessmen insisted that the president had told them during the January 15 meeting that the journalists were the “biggest terrorists”, even one of them was ready to testify before a court of law if needed.

PML-N legislator Ayaz Amir raised the issue of president’s remarks, saying such a statement was not made even during the dictatorship. Ayaz Amir, who is also a seasoned journalist and senior columnist, raised the issue and reminded that when President Zardari and Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani were spending their long confinements in jails it were the journalists who wrote for them. “If there was a weaknesses and incompetence on part of the government then why journalists are blamed for pointing out these things before the people,” he said.

He said the press was doing its job and highlighted things like awarding of two numbers to “a special daughter” out of allocated one number in examination paper. Clarifying the president’s remarks, Information Minister Sherry Rehman said the government believed in freedom of expression for media persons and President Zardari has never uttered any derogatory remarks about the journalists.

She said the Presidency had already issued clarification over the issue as “President Zardari holds media in high esteem and considers it an important institution in the democratic system.”

“President Zardari himself has very friendly and cordial relations with the journalists and he can never even think to utter such words,” Sherry Rehman clarified. She said that a meeting was summoned at the President House to review the NWFP situation, and the members of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry raised the issue of terrorism in the province during the deliberations.

She said the president and prime minister, time and again in their speeches, had reaffirmed commitment to freedom of expression for media. “Both the leaders have given media freehand to freely criticise the government and oppose its policies as this was the essence of democratic culture,” she added.

The information minister said the PPP government had repealed all the black laws and ordinances against the media soon after taking over the government, thus it fulfilled the commitment for ensuring freedom of expression as visualised by Shaheed Chairperson Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto and enshrined in the party manifesto.

She said the present government had converted Pemra into a facilitator rather than the regulator. She said that media institutions were themselves responsible for maintaining the code of conduct and ethics. “We look forward to hear from Pakistan Broadcasters Association, APNS, CPNE, PFUJ and other media organisations as they have assured for submitting the proposals for code of regulations,” the minister said.

She also informed the House that a meeting for implementation of Wage Board Award for the journalists was underway in Karachi.(APP adds: Earlier a spokesman for the Presidency described as “exaggerated and far from reality” and said it was clear from the fact that remarks about journalists wrongly attributed to the president quoting an anonymous source, were contradicted by the “source close to the Presidency” in the same report. He said the meeting had been convened primarily to discuss problems of business and industries of Frontier province, while the issues relating to journalists were not at all discussed in the meeting.)

Our Peshawar correspondent stands by his story:

Despite denials by the Presidency and Federal Information Minister Sherry Rahman, a number of Frontier businessmen insisted that President Asif Ali Zardari did make the statement about journalists being the biggest terrorists in Pakistan.

These businessmen were part of the 40-member delegation of Sarhad Chamber of Commerce & Industry (SCCI) that met the president in Islamabad on January 15. Several federal ministers and secretaries, advisers, the NWFP Chief Minister Ameer Haider Hoti and the provincial chief secretary and members of the President’s staff attended the meeting.

Participants said the number of people present at the meeting almost touched 100. They said it would be impossible to keep something secret with so many people attending the meeting. The businessmen again requested anonymity due to fears that they would be singled out in case their names appeared in the media. But several of them said that President Zardari during his long speech came down hard on Pakistani journalists and termed them terrorists.

Some of them said the president felt irritated when they raised the question of compensating the people and businessmen for the losses suffered by them due to terrorism and “it seems he reacted by blaming the media and journalists for the crisis-like situation prevailing in the country”.

One of the businessmen said he would be willing to appear before a court if the matter of the president’s statement about the journalists was taken there. “I will then testify that the president did make this statement in which he criticised the journalists as terrorists,” he added.

Source: The News

Date:1/20/2009