ISLAMABAD: The Prime Minister, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, has reminded that in a modern world there is no scope for any censorship.
“Such measures may bring temporary benefits, but they are never in the interest of a country and the nation in the long run,” the prime minister said while addressing 28th award ceremony of the All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS) here Wednesday at the Prime Minister Office (PMO). The ceremony was also addressed by Dawn Media Group CEO and APNS President Hameed Haroon, Secretary General Sarmad Ali and federal information and broadcasting Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb.
The prime minister said the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government has set the direction and it is proud not to have used censorship or the secret fund to control news content as it fully believes in the freedom of the press. He asked the media to ensure greater objectivity and impartiality in their news content. “We are proud to state that we never resorted to any such acts, despite serious challenges that we confronted,” he said, adding a free and fair media is vital for any democracy.
The prime minister said his government is also proud of the fact that it did not use “secret funds” of the Intelligence Bureau (IB) for media manipulation as it believes that the right to free expression needs to be fulfilled. He said in the past billions of rupees were doled out from the secret funds, however the PML-N government from day one remained committed that it would not use any coercion against the media and there would be no interference whatsoever.
“Our government always tried to maintain the freedom of expression at all costs,” he said, and added at the same time it was the government’s desire that there be more objective and positive reporting about Pakistan. He said successful completion of the development projects needs to be highlighted so as to have a feel-good factor for the masses.
The prime minister said his government successfully managed to maintain objectivity in the news and did not link it up to the government advertisements. He said like the reforms in all sectors, there is also a need to bring about changes in the news industry as well, and called for adopting a self-regulatory mechanism, particularly when there is no history of claiming any damages due to defamation. He said there is a need for putting in place a system which equally accommodates the contradictions of baseless news and allegations levelled against anyone.
Abbasi said that Pakistan of 2018 is totally different from the one his government inherited in 2013. He said the country has achieved significant success in all the areas. He said acknowledgement needs to be given for the accomplishments of the government, particularly in boosting the country’s GDP, enhancing investment climate, electricity and gas production, besides tackling terrorism.
Hameed Haroon in his remarks said over the past few years, they are encountering the most dangerous attacks on Article 19 of the Constitution. The Article 19 says that there shall be freedom of press subject to reasonable restrictions. “We know what those reasonable restrictions are. These are specified. None of these attacks is coming from the prime minister or his government. But, unfortunately, the modern state is a complex of many institutions and we find that the attack on the press freedom are not silent attacks, not modest attacks, but blatant attacks on the freedom of expression,” he said.
Hameed Haroon said the state institutions are not showing restraint and respect for the Constitution. “I will like to congratulate the prime minister for being tolerant, hard-working and humble. We are not likely to get people like him often. This man has tried to protect the independence of the press,” he said. The APNS president said sometimes it is not in the hands of the executive, the elected government, but for his efforts, dedication and hard-work to make the machinery of the state work in the last several months had produced some dramatic turning points which are going to change the history of the nation. “This includes Fata reforms,” he said. On Hameed Haroon’s request, all the APNS members and guests gave a standing ovation to Prime Minister Abbasi for working so hard for the country.
Hameed Haroon said he told General Musharraf several years ago that if in the war on terror, you destroy the institutions of democracy and if there is no democracy to build up when the war is over, there will be no future of democracy in the country. “This is not a platform to attack anybody or to embarrass the prime minister or the information minister. This is a platform from where we wish to assert that we will not be a party to the subjugation of press. We will not be a party to the upturning of the Article 19 of the Constitution. And we will not be a party to the killing of the freedom of expression in the country,” the APNS president vowed.
Hameed Haroon said what disturbs him is that the rules are being broken with impunity. He said distributors, hawkers and agents across the country are being harassed, coerced and threatened by the state institutions and it is not the prime minister or his information minister. “In Pakistan we have developed spirit of intolerance. We cannot listen. We cannot give anybody a chance. I am not even a voter of Nawaz Sharif. If a three-time prime minister makes a statement, it’s mild and consequential statement. It is not a breach of security. He makes a statement which has been written about countless times at the highest level. Whether it was appropriate for him to make this statement, is not for me to decide. I think that he should have shown a restraint but the fact that the press should go into a feeding frenzy, the electronic media should go into feeding frenzy and attack every achievement he had done,” he said.
The APNS president quizzed that have we lost our sense of balance? “Have we lost the ability to think? For example, we have a prime minister who came in not as a caretaker but as an elected representative stand-in for another one removed by the judiciary. It is not for me to decide merit and demerits of the judiciary but I will say that he had stood in his office with dignity and he has been loyal to the party and the leader. We seek such conditions,” he said.
Hameed Haroon said the country is in danger. “We are in a grey area with respect to international financing and with respect to the security concerns. We seek tolerance. I don’t say this to the state institutions in Islamabad who have indulged in this practice. I don’t say they are practitioners of democracy. I say we all have to learn to be tolerant and accommodating to each other. We must learn to respect Article 19 of the Constitution,” he said.
Hameed Haroon appreciated the prime minister for putting the country back on the reigns at a time when it was facing numerous challenges on different fronts. He was also appreciative of the government for its support to the freedom of expression as enshrined under the Constitution of the country. The, Prime Minister Abbasi, later distributed awards in different categories.
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