Pakistan Press Freedom Report 2006 and report on media in areas affected by earthquake of October 8, 2005
2005 was a difficult year for Pakistani media. Pakistani journalists were subjected to attacks, threats and harassment from institutions of state including law enforcement agencies as well as political, religious, nationalist and militant organizations.
The large number of incidents of violence against the print and electronic media and use of other coercive tactics such as use of laws and advertisements as to harass media organizations, contradicted claims by the government leaders that Pakistani media enjoyed unprecedented freedom. Attacks on media by political and religious parties were in sharp contradiction to their stated commitment to freedom of the press.
The ongoing military operation in tribal areas was a major threat that made the journalists in this country insecure. The Islamic publications faced official harassment that repeatedly disrupted their operations.
This years report included a section of the losses to journalists and media organizations caused by the earthquake of October 8, 2005 that devastated large parts of North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and Pakistan administered Kashmir. The earthquake also demonstrated that the country is ill served by state policies that restrict freedom of expression and development of media.
Violence against Journalists
Violence against Journalists in Tribal Areas of Pakistan
Two journalists shot dead, one injured in WANA, in tribal South Waziristan Agency
Two journalists were shot dead and another received serious bullet wounds when unidentified armed persons opened fire at their vehicle on February 7 in South Waziristan Agency (WANA) in the tribal areas of the Pakistan.
One of the journalists killed was Allah Noor Wazir, correspondent of English language daily The Nation, Lahore, and Pashto language AVT Khyber Television. The other journalist was Amir Nawab Khan Wazir correspondent of English language daily The Frontier Post, Peshawar and freelance cameraman for Associated Press Television News (APTN). Anwar Shakir, correspondent of the Urdu language daily Islam, and a stringer of the AFP news agency, received bullet wound in the abdomen and underwent surgery at a local hospital.
The journalists were travelling in a van after attending the ceremony arranged in connection with reconciliation between the government and rebel tribal leader Baitullah Mehsud. A group of armed persons in a car opened fire at them with AK-47 assault rifles.
President of local union of journalists killed in crossfire in Darra Adamkhel
On December 4, Nasir Afridi, correspondent of Urdu language Khabrain and president of local chapter of Tribal Union of Journalists was killed and three passers by injured in crossfire when two rival groups opened fire on each other in Darra Adamkhel in the tribal areas
The journalist was on his way in his vehicle to the press club to attend a meeting when two rival parties opened fire on each other in the main bazaar here. A bullet hit the journalist that proved fatal.
Journalist ambushed and shot dead in tribal town of Dergai.
On July 5, unidentified gunmen ambushed a car carrying a local journalist Ubaidullah Azhar and his friend Gul Wahid, and shot them dead in tribal town Dergai in the North West Frontier Province. The motives behind the killing were not clear.
Armed men kidnap journalist in North Waziristan
On December 5, unidentified gunmen kidnapped Hayatullah Khan, correspondent of European Pressphoto Agency and of the Islamabad-based Urdu language daily newspaper called Ausaf in North Waziristan, the restive tribal area bordering Afghanistan. Six armed men bundled Khan in a waiting car as he was going to cover a student protest in the town of Khajoori.
Khan was abducted a day after his photographs of the remnants of a U.S. made Hellfire missile that killed a senior al-Qaeda leader from Egypt, Hamza Rabia, in Miram Shah, North Waziristan’s main town, were distributed by the European Press Photo Agency on December 4. The photographs were an apparent contradiction of the official explanation that Rabia died in a blast caused by explosives located within the house, and not from an aerial attack.
Khan kidnapping remains shrouded in mystery with rumours of him being in the custody of Taliban, Americans and Pakistani security forces. All denied holding the journalist.
Cameraman shot and injured in WANA
On May 14, 2005, Mujeebur Rehman, Cameraman of Reuters news agency and Correspondent of Urdu language daily Khabrain was shot and wounded by unknown militants in Wana, South Waziristan, in the country’s tribal region bordering Afghanistan.
Mujeebur Rehman was returning from news coverage with his colleagues in a vehicle when armed men in van opened fire on them. He sustained two bullet injuries. He ran to nearby paramilitary base and took shelter.
A year earlier, on March 16, 2004, Rehman was detained by paramilitary personnel while filming an army operation.
Bomb Explodes in the home of journalist in WANA
A bomb exploded in the house of Dilawar Khan Wazir, correspondent of the daily Dawn and British Broadcasting Company (BBC), in Wana, South Waziristan Agency on 16 December 2005. The boundary wall and one room of the house of were destroyed. Twenty family members were present in the house but no one was hurt.
According to Wazir, he had been writing on the unsatisfactory state of affairs in the area. He said the area had become unsafe for journalists. He had informed the political administration of the area’s problems but no action had been taken.
Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) expressed grave concern that reporting in the tribal areas had become very dangerous, particularly since the military operation was launched in North Waziristan. The PFUJ urged media establishments to provide life insurance for reporters who are sent on dangerous assignments like the war on terror and has demanded that the government ensure the safety of media persons operating in these areas.
Attacks on Journalists and Media Organisations
Homemade bombs thrown in home of Gilgit Press Club President
On 3 March 2005, a homemade bomb was thrown into the home of Khurshid Ahmed, president. Gilgit Press Club, capital city of Pakistan’s Northern Areas.
Ahmed, who is the bureau chief of the Islamabad-based, Urdu-language daily Khabrain, speculated that the attack may have been in retaliation for the stand taken by local journalists refusing to print or disseminate hate literature or provocative statements issued by militants and sectarian organizations.
The Gilgit Union of Journalists condemned the attack. The union organized a march and staged a sit-in in front of the Northern Areas Chief Secretary’s office.
On July 23, unknown persons once again hurled homemade bombs into the Ahmed’s home. Two of the three bombs went off while third one could not explode.
The blasts caused damage to the house roof but caused no loss to seven inmates in his house.
Press reports quoting Mr. Ahmed said the attack could be the result of his support for the administration’s decision to close down weekly publications, K-2. Azan, Naqara, Wadi, and other publications, for publishing provocative statements of religious factions.
Mr. Ahmed said he had no personal enmity but added that he had strongly opposed a proposed dialogue between the local administration and the members of banned sectarian parties.
Office of media group attacked over television discussion show on incest
At 2 am on 30 January 2005 around 30 to 35 unidentified persons attacked the head office of the Jang Group of Publications in Karachi. They opened fire, beat the security staff, ransacked parts of the building and set vehicles on fire in the parking lot.
After overpowering the security guards, the intruders ransacked the reception area and smashed the mechanized glass entrance doors. The attackers then went to the mezzanine floor, where they broke the glass doors of Geo TV. They then entered the office of the daily Awam, an Urdu-language evening newspaper of the Jang Group, damaging the paper’s reporting section.
The attackers were armed with weapons and carried bags of stones, which they threw around freely. They broke open the locked doors of the cash counter and took some money. One of the cabinets was also set on fire.
The assailants also attacked the relief camp set up by the media group to collect goods for Asian tsunami victims. They ransacked the camp and threw collected goods across the road.
The Jang Group said it had received a number of telephone calls with threats of serious consequences over the 28 January telecast of a discussion on Incest in the weekly programme “Uljhan Suljhan”, which deals with personal and social issues that are still considered as taboo by many conservative elements in the country.
An unmarked press release dropped at the office of Pakistan Press International (PPI), the country’s independent news agency, said, “Our protest was against Geo TV’s controversial programmes and policy, as it is promoting vulgarity and obscenity in the country, particularly through the programme ‘Uljhan Suljhan’.”
Lahore Press Club attacked by activists of sectarian organization
Ten persons, including nine journalists, were injured when activists of a sectarian religious organization attacked the Lahore Press Club (LPC), in the capital city of Punjab province on January 14. The attackers threw stones and bricks, smashing cars parked at the club, as well as the windowpanes of the press club.
Activists of the Imamia Students Organization (ISO) had gathered outside the LPC to stage a demonstration protesting the death of Shiite religious scholar Agha Ziauddin, who had earlier been injured in sectarian riots in Pakistan’s Northern Areas.
ISO activists first harassed senior journalist Asghar Butt and when other journalists came to rescue their colleague, they started beating the journalists and pelting stones and petrol bombs at the club premises. The demonstrators then entered the club and broke the windowpanes and doors.
Journalists asked police outside the press club to take action, but the officers made no effort to stop the attackers. The demonstrators remained in the LPC courtyard for almost 30 minutes before police finally escorted them off the premises.
Journalists Amer Moghal, Moazzam Bhatti, Rai Hasnain Tahir, Shadab Riaz, Shujaat Hamid, Haji Abdul Ghafoor, Amer Sohail, Shoaib Ahmad, Ijaz Mirza and club guard Wasif sustained injuries.
The police later registered a case and briefly detained 148 students for attacking the press club and injuring journalists.
Political party activists storm newspaper office in Quetta, assault editor
On 14 April 2005, five armed men from Jamhoori Watan Party (JWP), a regional political party, stormed into the office of daily Mashriq, in Quetta, the capital of Balochistan province, and assaulted the paper’s executive editor, Kamran Mumtaz.
The attackers were angry that the paper presented a “biased portrayal of their party” and because statements and press releases of their party leaders were not properly covered in the paper.
The JWP members assaulted the security guard and forced their way into the building. Two of the assailants remained outside the building to watch over the guard while the others forcibly entered the executive editor’s office.
One of the attackers used brass knuckles to strike Mumtaz on his face. The assailants ransacked the office and threatened staff with dire consequences if the paper did not review its policy towards the JWP.
Press photographer beaten by government trucking company staff
On September 15, a photojournalist was attacked by staff of National Logistics Corp NLC), the government trucking company, for taking photos NLC personnel beating a young man at a busy intersection in Faisalabad, an industrial city in the Punjab province.
NLC personnel took Asadullah, photographer of daily Express and executive member of the Faisalabad Union of Journalists, to their camp office, snatched his camera and beat him. They also gave death threats to Asadullah.
NLC personnel also verbally abused journalists who had come to the camp office after hearing of the incident,
The police later arrested two NLC personnel on charges of illegal detention and threatening the photographer.
Mayor’s son assaults journalist in Chamman Balochistan
On November 22, the son of District Nazim Killa Abdullah attacked Syed Ali Achakzai, General Secretary Chamman Press Club, but ran away after people gathered on the spot.
While running, Jabbar threatened he would not spare any journalist who tried to prove that the educational records of his father were fake.
Students attack Peshawar Press Club
On November 14, 2005, about 200 students and teachers of the Government High School No-2 Peshawar Cantonment attacked the Peshawar Press Club after they were stopped from staging a sit-in in front of the Governor House. The students were protesting the government’s failure to provide them with an alternate facility after the school building developed serious cracks because of the earthquake.
Journalist in Badin receives abusive, threatening phone calls from district health officer
The family of Hanif Samoon, correspondent in Badin of daily Star, received abusive phone calls from the office of Executive District Officer (EDO-Health) Badin, Dr. Mohammad Nawaz Abbasi, threatening to kill the journalist if he did not stop writing against the EDO. The family received a number of calls on December 29 from the phone number of the EDO office.
Hand grenade hurled premises of Radio Pakistan, Quetta
A hand grenade was hurled in the premises of Radio Pakistan, in Quetta, Balochistan, late night on February 26, causing a loud explosion. However, there was no casualty or property damage, except for a smashed window pane. Police said the hand grenade was thrown from a deserted street along the building.
Nationalists attack newspaper office, burn copies for publishing advertisement
On 23 December 2005, a group of armed men threw a petrol bomb into the offices of the Sukkur edition of the Sindhi-language daily newspaper Khabroon, setting the reception area on fire. The attackers hurled threats at the newspaper staff and fired shots into the air.
Imtenan Shahid, the editor of the Khabrain group of newspapers, of which Khabroon is one, identified the attackers as members of a Sindhi nationalist group. Nationalists were angered by the publication of a government-sponsored advertisement in support of the controversial Kalabagh Dam project, which has generated strong reactions from both opponents and supporters.
Shahid added that Sindhi nationalist parties continued to harass the staff and vendors of the newspaper. Copies of the newspaper were set on fire in a number of cities, including Mirpurkhas, Ghotki and Thul.
On December 29, Pakistan Peoples Party youth wing Sindh Peoples Youth Organization (SPYO) President Amjad Baloch demanded administration of Sindhi daily newspaper Khabroon to either negotiate and reinstate its editorial and technical staff that had resigned in protest against publishing of government advertisement in favour of the controversial Kalabagh Dam.
Baloch saluted the editorial and technical personnel on their decision to resign and said they proved their love with Sindh by sacrificing the jobs.
Addressing a news conference Baloch announced that SPYO would protest against the daily on Jan 1, 2006 and would not let the daily circulated anywhere in Sindh.
Followers of Peshimam in Swat sets TV sets on fire
Inspired by a sermon by an Imam of a mosque in Mingora in Swat district of NWFP, people brought television sets, VCRs and CDs, audio and video tapes from their homes and burnt them amid slogans of Allah-o-Akbar (Allah is Great). Press reports said more than 250 television sets were put to the fire on November 9.
The Peshimam of the mosque, Maulana Rehanullah alias Pir Sahib, had urged the people to heed the warning from Allah following the devastating earthquake on October 8 and mend their ways to escape divine punishment. He warned them that the quake was a sign of Allah’s displeasure with our sinful way of life. He urged the people to cleanse their homes of the instruments of obscenity and start living life in accordance with teachings of Islam.
Attacks and Harassment by Law Enforcement Agencies
Journalists covering return of opposition leader assaulted, harassed by police
Three journalists and cameramen were injured as police baton charged a crowd that had gathered at Karachi’s Cantonment Railway Station on 15 April, 2005.
The journalists had gone to the station to cover the departure of 200 members of the opposition Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) who were travelling to Lahore to greet Asif Ali Zardari, PPP leader and husband of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. Zardari was returning to Pakistan from Dubai.
Journalists injured in the police action and taken to hospital for treatment included Malik Munawar, of daily Assas, Tasadduk Ghouri, of daily Janbaz, and Yaseen Jabalpuri of APNA TV.
On 16 April 2005, police manhandled editors, journalists and photojournalists at Lahore Airport. The journalists were accompanying Asif Ali Zardari, leader of the opposition Pakistan Peoples Party and spouse of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who was returning to Pakistan from Dubai.
Police also confiscated the journalists’ mobile phones, cameras and laptop computers. Journalists who refused to hand over their mobile phones and cameras were informed by the police that they would not be allowed to leave the airport until they handed over their equipment to the authorities.
Taking photographs is prohibited at the airport, and officials wanted to ensure that media workers had not taken any photographs while there. Journalists protested the police action and staged a sit-in at the airport for several hours, until police received instructions to allow the journalists to leave without checking their equipment. Police also returned the equipment they had seized from several journalists after removing film, cassette tapes and memory cards.
Police baton charge rallies by journalists on World Press Freedom Day
Police baton charged a peaceful rally of about 200 journalists in Lahore, the capital of the eastern Punjab province, on May 3. The demonstrators were marching with banners and slogans demanding implementation of Wage Board Award for journalists and greater press freedom
As the procession commemorating the World Press Freedom Day approached government buildings in the centre of town, police attacked it without warning or provocation, injuring fifty journalists.
In another incident on the same day, police in Islamabad, the country’s capital, arrested sixty journalists who had assembled near the parliament building chanting slogans calling for press freedom and implementation of for wage board award for journalists. Dozens of police officers herded the journalists into cars and vans and detaining them at a nearby police station for two hours.
Journalists covering trial of opposition leader manhandled
On February 11, the police manhandled journalists who were present when Javed Hashmi, the jailed leader of the opposition Pakistan Muslim League — Nawaz Group (PML-N), was being forced to sit in an armoured vehicle for producing him in court of Lahore. A reporter of a private TV channel suffered bruises when three policemen pounced upon him with fists.
On May 31, police in Sargodha, Punjab manhandled reporters and press photographers and snatched their cameras and films when they took photographs of baton charge baton and arrested leaders and activists of the opposition political alliance Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA). The police officer in charge of the operation threatened journalists with dire consequences if they published news of police action.
Arrest and Detention of Journalists
Three European filmmakers arrested
Three European filmmakers were arrested by military police on 18 July 2005 in Peshawar, capital of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP), as they were filming the home of a friend.
The filmmakers were accused of filming a military base, although the nearest was more than 500 meters from the house they were filming. They were blindfolded and taken to military base. After several initial rounds of interrogation, first by military police, then by military intelligence agents, they were placed in solitary confinement in dark and dirty cells for 16 days before being finally deported on 3 August. The detained filmmakers were Leon Flamholc and his son David Flamholc (Swedish nationals residing in London) and Tahir Shah, a British writer of Afghan origin.
Leon and David Flamholc were questioned about their personal history and their Jewish origins. As a British Muslim, Shah, who has written extensively about Afghan culture, was questioned about possible links to the recent London bombings.
The Pakistani authorities said they broke the law by filming while in the country on tourist visas. All the time they were held the Pakistani military refused to let them contact their embassies or their families.
Journalist detained for writing against the Chief Minister of Sindh.
Rashid Channa, reporter of the daily Star, a Karachi evening daily newspaper published by the Dawn Group of Newspapers, was picked up on in the afternoon of July 24 by police officials and detained for about twelve hours. The next day he was charged for attempted murder.
A statement released by Dawn Group claimed Mr. Channa was detained on the orders of Dr Mohammed Ali, the secretary to Dr. Arbab Ghulam Rahim, chief minister of Pakistan’s southern province of Sindh. The statement added that the detention of Mr. Channa appears to be linked to the stories filed by him about Sindh government, the conduct of its chief minister and appears to be the latest salvo fired by the Sindh government against the Dawn Group of Newspapers,
The statement added that in an abrupt move six weeks ago, the Sindh government on the orders of the chief minister moved to ban all government advertising in the Dawn Group in an attempt to silence critical opinions being expressed from newspapers and magazines within the group.
Harassment of Islamic Publications
Four journalists working Islamic publications arrested in Karachi
On July 16, police in the city of Karachi arrested the chief editor, and reporter of an Islamic Urdu language weekly Zarb-i-Islam and six newspaper vendors for spreading “hate literature”.
Karachi police raided the office of weekly magazine Zarb-i-Islam and picked up its chief editor Nasir Ali Jahangir and reporter Mohammad Saleem. Police also sealed the office of the publication and confiscated copies of the magazine.
Police also raided different newspaper stalls and picked up newspaper vendors
Mohammad Imran, Abdul Latif, Abdul Rehman, Mazhar Abbas, Nadeem, and Mohammad Irfan for selling these publications.
Police said the action was part of the drive to remove hate literature by the end of next year in compliance of directives of the president of Pakistan. No case had been registered against the publications and police sources said they were waiting for further orders from higher officials.
The Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors (CPNE) condemned the raid on the offices of the weekly Zarb-i-Islam and arrest of its chief editor and reporter, and demanded the Sindh government to immediately release the journalists, hand over the offices to its administration and file charges in a court of law if there are any legal complaints.
Three days later on July 19 police in Karachi raided the offices of a daily newspaper and three weekly magazines and arrested two journalists for publishing hate literature. Police also picked up many newspaper vendors for selling these publications.
Police raided the office of Urdu weekly Friday Special, the weekly magazine of daily Jasarat and arrested the magazine’s assistant editor Abdul Latif Abu Shamil. Daily Jasarat is a publication of the Jamaat-i-Islami, an Islamic political party opposing the rule of President General Pervez Musharaf.
The same day police raided the office of weekly Wujood and arrested its editor Mohammad Tahir. Offices weekly Ghazi and daily Ummat were also raided but no arrests were made.
Police seized copies of these publications from news stalls in the city and detained over 30 newspaper vendors. The national newspaper vendors association “All Pakistan Akhbar Farosh Federation” threatened countrywide strike against the arrests of newspaper vendors. “We have no link with politics”, they said in a statement, adding that police action against hawkers was illegal. The vendors association demanded the police to stop taking away newspapers and magazines from stalls without paying for them.
The US based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) expressed concern that “the government of Pakistan is using fears over religious and sectarian extremism to pressure newspapers and curb freedom of the press.”
Publishing licences of Islamic publications cancelled
On 15 August 2005, the publishing licenses of the weekly publications Wujood, Zarb-i-Islam and Friday Special were cancelled on the recommendation of the government of Sindh province.
District Coordination Officer, Karachi, Fazlur Rehman said the licenses were cancelled under Section 19 of the Press and Publication Ordinance 2002, in the interest of “maintenance of public order and tranquillity. Rehman said the action was taken for publishing objectionable material promoting sectarian extremism, hatred among various sects.
On September 9, Wujood editor, Mohammad Tahir was released on bail by the High Court of Sindh after being held by authorities for nearly two months. Shamil was released on bail in Karachi on August 5.
Raid on printing press.
Many daily newspapers in Karachi faced delays and problems because the police raided a printing press on suspicion that it was printing a banned publication. The police also stopped one newspaper from being printed in any other printing presses.
On December 13, police raided Citi Press, which prints a number of publications including the dailies Jasarat, Amn, Imroze, Evening Special, Karachi, Morning Special and Assas
According to the owner of Citi Press, Mohammad Ali, police alleged that the press was printing the banned weekly magazine Zarb-e-Momin. Ali said Citi Press had stopped printing that magazine one year ago.
While most newspapers succeeded in making alternative arrangements for printing, the editors of daily Islam said they tried many different presses but each time police stopped them. Because of this police harassment throughout the day, the newspaper could not be published on December 14.The paper resumed publication on December 15.
The Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors (CPNE) protested the action and said it was opposed to any extra-judicial action by the government.
Administrative and Legal Action against Media
Government resorts to press advice to newspapers
The federal government resorted to the use of press advice and suspension of advertisements to tone down coverage of sectarian violence in Northern Areas of Pakistan and incident of alleged rape of a lady doctor in a sensitive area of Balochistan province.
The government advised newspapers in Islamabad not to play up incidents of sectarian violence and to refrain from sensational coverage as it may further inflame tensions between Shiite and Sunni communities in Gilgit, the capital of the Northern Areas of Pakistan.
Newspapers with sizable readership in the Northern Areas felt they could not downplay such major incidents and prominently covered the sectarian tensions and violence. In retaliation the government suspended advertisements of eight newspapers it felt were indulging in sensational coverage of the sectarian violence.
In the case of the alleged gang rape, a member of security forces was accused to be involved in crime. The government asserted that security forces are being accused to pressurize the government in the dispute with the local tribes over natural gas royalties, and advised newspapers not to publish name of the member of the security forces. However, some newspapers ignored the press advice and published the name of the person accused by the local tribes.
The Standing Committee (Executive Committee) of Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors (CPNE) in a resolution passed on January 14 condemned the use of press advice as intervention of government in the affairs of the press.
The CPNE also expressed concern over the suspension of government advertisements to newspapers not abiding by the press advice. The CPNE said reporting of facts was not only the right of newspapers but also the professional responsibility of the editors.
Government bans advertising in two newspapers
In May, the Pakistan government banned state advertising in two newspapers of the Nawa-e-Waqt Group, the Urdu-language daily Nawa-i-Waqt and the English-language daily The Nation.
The ban was imposed in direct retaliation to an advertisement by the opposition Pakistan People’s Party Parliamentarians (PPPP) published in both newspapers about the arrival of the party’s leader Asif Ali Zardari in Lahore.
Several weeks earlier, the Punjab regional government had also suspended advertisements to these newspapers in retaliation to critical reporting.
Police raid publishers, printers of sectarian publications
Police in Faisalabad, Punjab on July 26 conducted raids on a number of printing presses and offices of publishers and detained their owners on the charges of creating religious hatred among the people.
The reasons given for the crackdown was to trace the printing presses who published books Khutbat-i-Azam, Islam aur Munafqat, Phir Wohi Qaid-o-Bund, Khilafat-i-Rashida and Toot Gai Zanjeer, copies of which were confiscated during a raid on an office of the Sipah-i-Sahaba , a militant sectarian organisation.
Newspaper office sealed, printing suspended for publishing obscene material
On July 28, police sealed the office of daily Mid Special and suspended printing work at Qayyum Printing Press for one month.
The police said the action was taken on the instructions of home department for printing obscene material. A case under section 292 of PPC was registered against the publisher and the editor of the publication.
Newspaper, magazines of Ahmadi community confiscated, printing presses sealed
On August 05, Jhang police confiscated copies of daily Al-Fazal and a monthly paper and sealed two printing presses in Rabwa. The publications and printing presses belong to Ahmadi community. The police also arrested the editor of Al-Fazal and registered criminal cases for publishing objectionable material
Federal Government orders seizure of sectarian publications
On August 19, the federal interior ministry issued strict directives to Sindh government to seize and forfeit the sectarian monthly magazines Hatif-e-Mehdi and The Voice of Mehdi, authored by banned Gohar Shahi, under section of 99-A of criminal procedure code 1898.
Following such directives, Home Secretary Sindh directed the Inspector General IGP Sindh to take immediate legal action against the writer, publisher and distributors of material and their translations in any magazine.
Journalist sentenced to one year prison term for skipping bail
On January 26, the Anti Terrorist Court in Quetta, capital of Balochistan province, sentenced freelance journalist Khawar Mehdi to one year rigorous imprisonment for not appearing in the court. Mehdi was arrested along with two other Pakistani citizens and two French journalists on the charges of making fake documentary film on the activities of Taliban in Killa Abdullah area of Balochistan.
The French journalist were convicted, fined and released and the Pakistani citizens were released on bail. After some time Mehdi went to America, and did not appear before the court for hearing. The court cancelled his bail and ordered the production of his guarantor.
Case registered against journalist for violating Official Secrets Act
Police in Karachi registered a case against Afzal Nadeem, senior reporter of Urdu daily Awam for violating the Official Secrets Act for publishing a news item based on a letter of the National Crisis Management Cell (NCMC) of the Federal Interior Ministry about forcible collection of funds from the people.
The Karachi Union of Journalists (KUJ) and CPNE condemned the registration of case under Official Secrets Act and demanded immediate withdrawal of the case against the journalist and abolition of the Official Secrets Act.
The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) termed the registering of cases against reporters as an attempt to curb press freedom. “The use of laws to intimidate journalists and restrict their right to report is nothing less than an assault on press freedom,” said IFJ President Christopher Warren.
On May 29 police registered criminal cases against Afzal Nadeem, and Asad Abne Hassan, reporter of an English evening newspaper , Daily News, for “anti-state activities” under sections 500 and 505(1)(b) of PPC (Pakistan Penal Code).
Indian journalist refused entry on arrival in Lahore
Indian journalist Harider Baweja of the privately-owned weekly “Tehelka” was denied entry despite having a valid visa on her arrival at Lahore international airport on 22 July 2005. She was told she was on a blacklist.
Baweja said she had visited Pakistan dozen of times in the past 15 years and did not understand why she was barred this time. The Foreign Ministry officials denied that her name was on a blacklist. The Immigration Department refused to comment further.
NWFP assembly demands ban on English film The Message
On October 28 the provincial assembly of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) assembly through a resolution demanded of the federal and provincial government to ban English film ‘ The Message’ and forfeit all its copies as the film was against the Islamic jurisprudence (Sharia)
The resolution said telecasting the Urdu version of the film by Geo Television was a blasphemous act as Sharia did not allow for making a film on the life of Holy prophet Mohammad (PBUH) and his companions (Sahaba-e-Kiram). The resolution demanded of the federal and provincial governments to take action against those who performed the blasphemous act.
Opposing the resolution, Ms. Farah Aqil Shah, member of provincial assembly of Awami National Party, said Jamia Al-Azhar had permitted the making of such film and hundreds of people embraced Islam after watching the film. Two other women members also supported her.
Legal and Administrative Actions against Electronic Media
PEMRA takes action against FM-103 radio network for broadcasting BBC news
On 2 March, the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) ordered Mast FM 103 to stop broadcasting the Urdu language news programmes of BBC World Service from all its stations in Karachi, Lahore, Multan and Faisalabad. PEMRA airing of BBC news bulletins violated the terms of licence for FM radio stations.
On 14 November, PEMRA, assisted by the local police, raided FM 103 radio station in Karachi and shut down its transmission for alleged violation of laws regulating the operation of radio stations. The seized the transponders, antennas and other broadcast equipment of the radio station.
A representative of FM 103 said the station had previously been broadcasting news from the BBC, but stopped after objections by PEMRA. However, a programme from the foreign-based radio service including analysis and views on the 8 October earthquake had recently been broadcast by FM 103.
A PEMRA official said according to PEMRA regulations, radio stations could only broadcast news and current affairs programmes produced by the state-run radio and television networks.
IFJ terms passage of PEMRA Amendment Bill a setback to press freedom
The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) termed as a setback to freedom of expression in Pakistan, the passage of the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority Amendment Bill (2004) (PEMRA) on 16 May by the National Assembly.
In a statement, IFJ President Christopher Warren said the Bill had set the stage for a tightened government grip over broadcast media and termed official claim of lifting restrictions on cross-media licensing “a sham”.
IFJ criticized the Bill, which under Clause 27, gave government the power to impose a ban on channels in the name of “national interest”, “national security”, “ideology of Pakistan” and “vulgarity” – all of which are subjective notions.
IFJ also criticized provisions which made violations of the Bill a cognizable and compoundable offence, with sentences up to three years and heavy fines of ten million rupees (USD 168,000).
The IFJ also expressed its concern about the composition of the 13-member PEMRA, dominated by nominees of the President, with only token representation of other sectors. Important clauses like the three-member committee headed by a retired Supreme Court or High Court Judge to oversee the complaints, have been deleted.
PEMRA has been given complete power to grant exemption from any provisions which it deems fit. Previously, this provision was conditional and was based on certain criteria drawn up in conformity with the principle of equity as enshrined in the Constitution.
Pirate radio stations raided, equipment seized
In December PEMRA seized the equipments of 12 illegal FM radio stations in district Swabi.
According to a press release issued by PEMRA on December 28, the electronic media regulatory authority had confiscated the equipments of FM radio stations operating at Bunner, upper Dir, Shangla and Swat, without proper licences. The press release said operation in other parts of the region was also underway.
According to another report PEMRA Chairman Iftikhar Rashid informed a meeting that the authority had closed down 60 channels, and 12 FM radio stations, and 713 illegal cable services, which were operating illegally. The meeting was informed that many channels peddling pornographic material had been closed down.
PEMRA bans cable networks from broadcasting 30 foreign TV channels
On December 22, 2005, Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) ordered cable TV operators to stop broadcasting some 30 foreign TV channels. Most of the banned channels are Indian. The PEMRA orders threatened fines and arrest for networks that violate the instructions.
Media in Areas Affected by Earthquake of October 8, 2005
On October 8, 2005, an earthquake measuring 7.6 on the Richter scale devastated large parts of North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and Pakistani controlled Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK). According to official figures the death toll was estimated at over 73,000, including 17,000 children, and the number of injured is estimated to be over 70,000. Over 400,000 houses have been destroyed and the number of homeless is estimated to be 3.3 million. Journalists and other personnel working for media organisations also suffered terrible losses.
Losses of media in earthquake affected areas
Three hundred and one persons working for the media suffered personal or property losses in the areas. Eleven persons associated with media were killed and 19 injured. Eighty-eight family members of media personnel were killed and 20 injured. Two hundred and thirty one houses of media personnel were destroyed and another 70 suffered damages to their houses.
Out of twenty press clubs and union of journalists offices in the area, premises of fifteen were either destroyed or damaged. In most cases, furniture and equipment in damaged premises of media organisations were destroyed.
Muzaffarabad is the biggest media centre in the earthquake-affected area. Two daily newspapers, Siasat and Mahasib are published from the city. Being the capital of Azad Kashmir, this city hosts a sizeable Information Department of the AJK government, and stations of state-owned Radio Pakistan and Pakistan Television. It is also home to a large press corps of correspondents representing national and regional newspapers and television channels. The city also has an active press club that had recently received computers, scanners, printers and video camera from the Pakistan government. The equipment is now buried under the rubble of the collapsed building of the press club.
The majority of losses to media personnel and organisations occurred in Muzaffarabad Ten media personnel were killed in the city and eleven were injured. Fifty family members of media personnel were killed and another nine were injured. One hundred and nine houses of media personnel were destroyed and another fourteen suffered damages to their houses.
The buildings of the information department have become structurally unstable and may have to be demolished, while buildings housing radio and television stations and the press club have been destroyed. The broadcast tower of Pakistan Television has also been destroyed, but fortunately, the broadcast tower of Radio Pakistan is still standing. The building renting office space to daily newspapers, Siasat and Mahasib has become structurally unstable.
Several houses in the residential colony for the staff of Radio Pakistan collapsed causing loss of life and injury to the family members of radio employees.
After the destruction of the radio station, emergency steps were taken to start an FM service that covers a 45km area through its transmission. Resumption of radio transmissions have enabled survivors to send messages to their family displaced by the earthquake. Officials said that medium wave radio transmission would soon be operational and cover a145 sq. km area.
Most residents and institutions in Muzaffarabad are living and working in tents. Lack of safe office space is a major problem for rehabilitation of the media. Daily Mahasib and daily Siasat restarted editorial functions from tents, with printing done in Islamabad.
Abbotabad is the only other city in the affected areas with a sizable media presence. Seven daily newspapers are published from this city and all major national and regional newspapers have correspondents based here. Fortunately, media personnel and organisations in Abbotabad were not seriously affected. The only notable damage was minor damage to the ceiling of upper floor of Abbottabad Press Club.
Newspapers in Abbotabad were not published on October 9 due to disruption of electric power but they resumed regular publication the next day. FM 99, the only private sector radio station in the earthquake-affected area, has continued to operate despite interruptions due to frequent power breakdowns.
The town of Balakot, with a population of 30,000, with another 50,000 living in surrounding villages, suffered the greatest devastation. The entire area has been reduced to rubble, with hardly a family that has not suffered loss of family members and destruction to homes and livelihood. Houses of all 17 journalists of Balakot have been destroyed. Three media personnel were injured, twelve family members killed and one seriously injured.
The press corps had ceased to function in Balakot due to the destruction of telecommunication and electricity infrastructure. As an emergency measure, PPF provided journalists remaining in the city with mobile telephones and arranged free airtime from the mobile telephone company Telenor, which had started serving Balakot the same day. This small, but timely, measure allowed journalists in Balakot to start functioning again. The journalists of Balakot recently set up a press club in a tent where they meet and carry out their professional activities.
Bagh, in Azad Kashmir, is another town that has suffered massive damage. One journalist was killed and three injured in this town. Three family members of media journalists were killed and another four were injured. Homes of 27 journalists were destroyed and three were damaged.
Earthquake highlights need for changes to communication and information policies
The earthquake demonstrated, yet again, that the country is ill served, especially in times of crisis, by the long-standing state policy of not fully opening the electronic media and telecommunication services.
This policy is most severe in Azad Kashmir where successive governments in Pakistan have not allowed the operation of independent radio stations or private mobile telecommunication services.
Thus, when massive landslides caused by the earthquake blocked roads to many parts of the affected areas and destroyed landline telephone and telegraph systems, the country suddenly found itself without any means of communicating with millions of people devastated by the calamity. Victims in the remote towns, villages and hamlets that dot these mountainous regions found themselves isolated, trapped and without any way of communicating their plight and needs to those in a position to help.
The clearing of roads has taken many days and some areas are still inaccessible. Helicopters, which are the most effective way of providing emergency relief, continue to be in short supply. Communication with areas made inaccessible by blocked roads could have substantially improved the efficiency and effectiveness of relief operations by helicopters as well as by other means.
The earthquake destroyed the only broadcast facility of the state owned Radio Pakistan in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Azad Kashmir. While some parts of Azad Kashmir could receive signals from Islamabad, large areas could not be reached by radio. Thus, information on relief operations and guidance on coping with the aftermath of the earthquake could not be provided effectively to people in the affected areas.
The Pakistan government realized the desperate situation caused by lack of telecommunication facilities and allowed private mobile telecommunication companies to operate in the area. Private mobile companies responded swiftly and started operations within a matter of days, allowing victims of the earthquake to communicate with their friends and families as well as those in authority and the relief community. The government also gave permission to six private commercial FM radio stations urging them to start operating immediately.
While these policy changes are welcome, they are not at all adequate to meet the needs of the earthquake-affected areas, nor of the country at large.
Need for community radio
The earthquake-affected areas comprise many small isolated population centres in mountainous region that cannot be covered by the centralised FM transmission from urban centres. Nor would it be feasible for commercial radio stations to operate in small population centres with limited commercial potential. The best solution for the provision of radio service to the earthquake affected communities, as well as for many smaller towns and villages throughout Pakistan, would be the development of community radio. The government should move swiftly in formulating policies that encourage the development of the community radio sector.
The legislation creating the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) to issue licences to electronic media has provisions for community radio stations but, so far, the government has granted community radio licences to only a handful of universities and NGOs.
There is no clear policy regarding community radio and diverse concerns have been expressed unofficially that community radio could fall into the hands of those who would promote sectarianism, religious extremism, and separatism or because of foreign funding, promote agenda and values that are against the country’s ideological, cultural and religious traditions. The prospects, potentials and challenges of community radio need to be seriously discussed so that a policy can be formulated that can addresses genuine concerns, while at the same time promotes the rapid development of community radio in the country.
Community radio can play a crucial role in promoting dialogue among citizens on the priorities and directions of reconstruction activities and in giving people a voice in monitoring the fairness, transparency and effectiveness of relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction activities. It is therefore important that the government not merely reviews its restrictive policy on licensing of community radio stations, but also formulate a programme of training and technical support to encourage establishment of community radio stations all over Pakistan.
As interim measures, licences could be granted to local government institutions, civil society organisations, and press clubs and other media organisations, first in the affected areas and later throughout Pakistan. Many of these institutions have the commitment and human resources and, with proper support, can develop capacities for establishing and running community radio stations within a relatively short time.
At present private radio stations are not allowed to broadcast news and current affairs programmes, except those produced by the state-owned radio and television. Such restrictions are not only reminiscent of the authoritarian eras, but have severely limited the contribution that radio can make in keeping listeners in Pakistan aware of developments around them. These restrictions should be removed immediately as the priority for people affected by the earthquake, is for news and information rather than entertainment programmes.
Need for effective access to information laws
Transparency in the use of aid and other contributions from national and international donors will be the key to the continuation of support in the long term. Support for rehabilitation and reconstruction will be required for many years, and this will only be possible if donors know that their money is being well spent. While the President and the Prime Minister of Pakistan have repeatedly assured there would be no misuse of rehabilitation and reconstruction aid funds, institutional mechanism to enable citizens and the media to monitor such claims are lacking.
The record of governments in providing access to information remains poor. Pakistan’s Freedom of Information Ordinance, 2002 contains many flaws and weaknesses that need immediate remedy and reform. To make matters worse, even information that should be provided under this inadequate law is rarely provided.
As interim measure, those at the highest levels of government should declare and ensure that information requested under the ordinance is provided promptly and fully. For this to happen, the government would need to create awareness among its officials and devote necessary resources to handle access to information requests promptly.
The law itself needs to be reformed and the process of consultation should be initiated at the earliest with different stakeholders including journalists, media organisations, civil society organisations and parliamentarians. Other laws, such as the Official Secrets Act that promotes the culture of secrecy needs to be repealed or drastically reformed. It is also important for the government to reassure that the excuse of national security will not be used to deny information about relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction activities in the earthquake affected areas.
The newly created government institutions for relief and reconstruction, such as the Federal Relief Commission and the Earthquake Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Authority, should be required to proactively disclose information relating to planning, implementing and monitoring relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction activities. These institutions should devote necessary resources to promptly handle information requested under the access to information laws.
At present, the access to information laws do not exist at the provincial level. Since the provincial governments are undertaking many relief and rehabilitation activities, it is necessary for the governments of NWFP and Azad Kashmir to implement effective access to information laws at the earliest. Local governments also need to take on a proactive role in disseminating information regarding relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction.
Due to the ineffectiveness of the access to information laws, journalists have not taken much interest in using these laws. There is a need to continue efforts to train and encourage journalists to use the access to information laws to gather information from official sources.
Capacity development of the media in the earthquake affected areas
The areas affected by the earthquake are among the most backward in the country as far as the media is concerned. The needs of the media in these areas are diverse and include developing the professional skills of journalists, including the writing skills of women; developing press clubs; providing training in the use of computers and Internet; training non-media organisations working in the area, skills to work effectively with media; and modernising the offices of the official information departments in far flung districts.
The capacity of journalists already working in the area needs to be developed so that they can play a role in monitoring crucial rehabilitation and reconstruction activities, and keep the country informed of the needs of their communities.
Many communities in these areas do not have trained journalists who could report on their communities hence there is a need for sustained efforts to train and develop a corps of journalists in all parts of the affected areas.
Media publishers and media development organisations should also come forward with programmes for training radio journalists as well as for other aspects of managing community radio stations.
While media coverage has generally been very good in providing information of the affected areas to the country and the world at large, a glaring weakness in the coverage is the lack of women’s voices. Problems regarding women have not been adequately highlighted due to gender segregation that limits the access of male journalists to women who comprise half the population of the area. For women to have a say in shaping the direction of relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts, it is necessary to train local women to write for the media. Local journalists and press clubs need to play a positive role in creating a safe and friendly environment to encourage the entry of women in this profession.
There has been a dramatic growth in the use of the Internet in Pakistan. Unfortunately, the areas affected by the earthquake are remote and the Internet reach to these areas is amongst the lowest in the country. There is a need to consider innovative ways to providing the Internet connectivity to remote areas of this region and to train to use of computers and the Internet.
In addition to the federal and provincial governments, a range of institutions – including donor agencies, relief organisations, national and local civil society organisations and local governments Â– will remain involved in relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts. It is important that the local media understands the functioning, role, responsibilities and limitations of these institutions. These organisations need to understand the role of the media to monitor and report independently, and be skilled in working effectively with the media. Promoting professional interaction between journalists and these organisations would lead to better media coverage of reconstruction activities.
Priority should also be given to the establishment of press clubs where they do not exist, while existing press clubs that have been damaged should be rehabilitated on emergency basis so that journalistic activity is fully reactivated.
The earthquake demonstrated the inadequacy of the official information departments that are supposed to facilitate local and national media in gathering information from far-flung areas. The presence of official information departments outside the capital cities is often minimal and is restricted to only a few districts. There is a need for the NWFP provincial government as well as the government of Azad Kashmir to establish properly equipped information department offices at the districts level.
Challenges of working in sensitive regions
The areas affected by the earthquake are among the most sensitive and politically volatile regions in the world and include the Pakistani and Indian administered Kashmir and areas bordering Afghanistan and Pakistan. There have been persistent allegations of this region being the centre of militancy and extremism.
The earthquake offers challenges to the international community as well to governments in the region to develop policies and programmes that reduce the need for resorting to militancy. Rehabilitation and reconstruction activities should be planned and implemented swiftly, transparently and with full participation of the local population.
A large number of diverse national and international organisations working in the area need to be open in their operations to counter allegations that attempts are being made to promote political, religious and social agendas in the garb of relief activities. The local population needs to be kept informed of developments through the local media, to discourage public misconceptions that can create hurdles in the relief and reconstruction activities. The local media also offers an opportunity for international organisations to win the trust of the local communities, thereby increasing the chance of success in their work. Sensitivities of the local population, voiced through reports by local journalists, can serve as advance warning of problems ahead that can be addressed promptly.