=> * RSF calls for repealing ordinances on print and
* RSF calls for repealing ordinances on print and broadcast media
* Govt rejects RSF report terming it unrealistic and unreasonable
PESHAWAR/ISLAMABAD: International media rights group Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF) said on Wednesday that media was Â“not free” to provide coverage of the elections scheduled for February 18 because of Â“a climate of censorship” that is sustained by the permanent threat of fines, closures of news media and arrests of journalists.
“The government has introduced a series of regulations that drastically restrict the broadcast media’s ability to cover the election campaign. The ban on Geo News proves that press freedom has not been guaranteed for the polls. At the same time, journalists are exposed to great dangers, with the security forces being responsible for most of the violence,” the Paris-based press freedom organisation said in its report.
It identified five key problems facing the media to ensure free coverage of parliamentary elections in the country.
Censorship: The government decreed amendments to the ordinances on print media (RPPO 2002) and the broadcast media (PEMRA 2002) on November 3, 2007, which, inter alia, “make it possible to sentence a journalist to three years in prison for defaming or making fun of the president”.
“At the same time, the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) issued a code of conduct that severely limits editorial freedom. The dozens of privately-owned radio and TV stations that were suspended at the start of November were forced to sign the code in order to be allowed to resume broadcasting. “Many journalists have told RSF that both military and civilian authorities often directly intervene with media executives and editors. PEMRA sent a letter to radio and TV station owners on December 11 banning them from broadcasting news programmes and talk shows live and brandishing the threat of fines, prison sentences and bans for those stations that broadcast criticism of the government before the elections,” the report added. The organisation called for repeal of the two ordinances and the code of conduct to ensure real press freedom.
The TV news station Geo News and the sports channel Geo Super are no longer accessible in Pakistan. “The government wants to force this broadcast group, the county’s most popular one, to censor itself, to sideline some of its journalists and to eliminate some of its programmes,” the RSF report read.
At least 30 journalists were seriously injured in 2007, and around 120 were arrested. Three police officers were punished in connection with the violence in Islamabad on September 29 but impunity prevails in most attacks on journalists, the organisation adds. “There have been more cases of journalists being injured by police since the lifting of the state of emergency, notably on December 17 in Islamabad.” RSF demanded “the end of violence and threats by the security forces against the media”.
Six journalists were slain in suicide bombings or contract killings in 2007. One of them was a TV journalist who was killed in the first suicide bomb attack on former Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) chairwoman Benazir Bhutto in Karachi. A cameraman was killed when the security forces stormed the Lal Masjid in Islamabad. “Pakistan became the most dangerous Asian country for the media in 2007,” RSF underlined.
“RSF firmly condemns bombings against civilians, including journalists, and calls for the murders of journalists to be investigated.”
Report rejected: Pakistan Television (PTV) is directly controlled by the government and “systematically plays up the statements and activities of President Musharraf and other government leaders,” the report alleged.
“The legislative elections will not be free unless the government immediately rescinds the restrictions imposed on the media,” said the RSF. “The violence by the police and acts of intimidation by the intelligence services are also unacceptable.Â”
A spokesman of the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting rejected the RSF report terming it unrealistic, unreasonable, based on hearsay and contrary to the ground realities in Pakistan.
The spokesman said that the media in Pakistan was the freest ever in the history of the country. There is no censorship at all, the spokesman said, and wondered if any country would allow telecasting of rumours on the TV channels without any substance. But such instances of irresponsible reporting in Pakistan are many, the spokesman said.
Source: Daily Times