Media faces safety, rights crisis in Pakistan: IFJ
ISLAMABAD, Feb 25: The fact-finding mission of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has observed that media in Pakistan was facing a crisis of safety and social rights and expressed concern over the rising violence against journalists in the country.
Speaking at a press conference, IFJ President Christopher Warren said the mission was concerned over potential threats to the operation of a free media through the government actions that had promoted cross-media ownership, placed police in positions to regulate media and failed to properly implement independent public service broadcasting.
He was flanked by Iqbal Khatak, country representative of the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders; convenor of Sri Lanka- based Free Media Movement, Sunanda Deshapriya; President Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists Pervez Shaukat and President Rawalpindi-Islamabad Union of Journalists Afzal Butt.
Mr Warren said the continuing killing, kidnapping and harassment of journalists in Pakistan was intolerable and must cease. He pointed out that 20 journalists and media workers in Pakistan had been killed in the past seven years, with four of them murdered in just the past year.
He said it was disturbing that the families of journalists had also been targeted and in two cases the young brothers of journalists had been murdered. He regretted that in almost none of these cases, the guilty parties been arrested and convicted.
“This places an urgent responsibility on federal and provincial governments and police to identify the killers. The continued failure to do so is creating a climate of impunity, a sense that the murderers in these cases will always escape the law,” he remarked.
IFJ president also expressed his concern over the arrest of Al-Jazeera cameraman Sami Alhaj in Pakistan six years ago and his subsequent hand over to the United States. He demanded his immediate release.
Answering a question, the IFJ chief said it was the responsibility of the state to provide safety and security to the media-persons.
Employers should provide a safer environment to their workers. He referred to the Article 19 of the Constitution of Pakistan, which guarantees freedom of the press and said the judiciary had a key role in holding the government accountable. “All the arms of strength should have some responsibility,” he stressed.
The IFJ in consultation with the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists would explore ways and means to address the crisis confronting media in Pakistan.
He said a set of concrete recommendations will also be compiled.
Iqbal Khatak of the Reporters Without Borders said threats and arrests of journalists were clear violation of the press freedom and against the commitments made by senior officials including President Gen Pervez Musharraf.
He said the situation in the Tribal areas and Baluchistan was a strategic issue for Pakistan but the journalists there must be able to work freely.
Mr Khatak said security agencies must be ordered to stop “harassment and kidnapping” of journalists under the flimsy pretext of fight against terrorism.
He said the cases of kidnappings in the past must be investigated and results of the investigations be made public.