Media wrapping itself in self-censorship: report
Iftikhar A. Khan
ISLAMABAD, January 05 2006: Pakistan’s media remained critical and vibrant during the year 2005, but are being “entrapped in an elaborate system of self-censorship”. This was observed in a report titled “Media Monitor South Asia 2005” released by the South Asian Free Media Association (Safma) here on Wednesday January 4.
Generally, says the report, the Pakistani media have kept their independence, the plurality of opinions and their critical bite.
“Yet, the investigative journalism is being guillotinized. The revival of press advice, enforcement of self-censorship through various means from within and withdrawal of or threat to withdraw public sector advertisements is increasingly circumscribing media freedom.”
Encroachments take place “as the media czars willingly barter media freedom with financial gains,” according to the report.
During the year, most significant violations of press freedom took place and certain journalists famous for their bold stories and opinion came under fire. Journalists were attacked in the Waziristan tribal belt where army is operating against foreign and local militants linked to Al Qaeda.
Three journalists lost their lives while trying to perform their duties. Mir Nawab Wazir and Allah Noor Wazir, were shot dead, after participating in a truce ceremony between the government and a tribal chief Baitullah Mehsud.
Another journalist, Ubaidullah Azhar in NWFP, was killed but the motive behind his killing was not clear. Hayatullah Khan, a reporter for Ausaf, Nation and the European Press Photo Agency from the tribal area, was kidnapped and his whereabouts were still not known.
In 2005, the electronic media specially FM stations received ‘guidelines’ on what to do and what not to do and faced threats, seizure of equipment. The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) took punitive measures against the electronic media.
Amendments to the Pemra Ordinance 2002 passed by the National Assembly are described by the report as “even worse”. The Senate has sent the amended bill to a committee which has yet to give its opinion. “The move shows the real authoritarian designs behind the Pemra which wants extraordinary powers to confiscate equipments, cancel licenses and proceed against the owners,” says the report.
Media scene in South Asia as a whole remained quite diverse in 2005, with electronic media dominating the scene, despite obstructive regimes, and Nepal and the Maldives proving to be worse places in terms of repression against the press, the report said.
Safma Secretary-General Imtiaz Alam, releasing the report, lamented harassment of journalists in the region, particularly in conflict-ridden and lawless areas.
Twelve journalists were killed, some kidnapped and many harassed in South Asia in 2005, he said.
In India, the report says, the media scene is becoming almost chaotic and increasingly varied with corporate interests now setting the nature of content and direction of policy. “Yet the expansion and diversity of huge Indian media is so dynamic that no one can stop their march,” it asserts.
The Media Monitor also included country reports on Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Nepal, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.