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July 12, 2019

World media boycotts session with Pak FM at media freedom moot

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July 12, 2019

LONDON: International media on Thursday boycotted session with Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi at the “Defend Media Freedom” conference as was greeted by empty seats as journalists protested over ‘free speech concerns’ in Pakistan.

Qureshi, who is in the British capital on an official visit, attended the conference with journalists posting videos of a nearly deserted hall.

Qureshi was questioned about the censorship in Pakistan. “Believe you me, there is no question of gagging or controlling media,” he told the conference co-hosted by Britain and Canada. “That time has gone and with the new social media, the advent of social media, even if you want to gag you can gag nothing.”

Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said that Pakistan suffers from negative characterisation in western media, which is not reflective of the reality of Pakistani media. Amid rising questions about the issue of freedom of speech and recent actions takenagainst news channels by Pemra, Shah Mahmood Qureshi told the conference in London that Pakistan’s reality is overlooked by western media.

“I urge you not to be swayed by negative characterisation in international media about Pakistan, which tends to overlook Pakistan’s accomplishments in media and other areas,” said Qureshi.

He was repeatedly asked by journalists about concerns surrounding allegations by media and journalist organisation that there are increasing restrictions on media and that Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) has taken harsh actions against TV channels recently for airing speeches of Maryam Nawaz without censoring.

Qureshi said close to 89 private TV channels were operating in Pakistan. "Three of them were taken off, I´m told for 6-8 hours, and now they are functioning again," he said.

He said the channels had "issues" with the regulatory body, adding: "Those issues have been settled." He said that Pakistan is more free, diverse and vibrant today than before and better than many developing worlds, freer than many other developing countries.

Qureshi denied that media was under restrictions, adding that there are certain rules, which must be followed by all. Qureshi said he always stood by democracy and freedom and continued to support the same values. Qureshi said he held Geo anchor Hamid Mir in high regard but said his interview with Asif Ali Zardari was not aired because the former president was interviewed when he was produced in the assembly from his cell and therefore he was not entitled to give his opinion.

The foreign minister was hackled by a Canadian journalist at the end of his speech. The journalist alleged that Pakistani government got his Twitter account shut down. In the video footage, which went viral, it can be seen that the Canadian man says: “You censored me, I had a Twitter account here [in Canada].”

“You sir should be ashamed, who are you to silence me in Canada… Answer? You don’t like free speech,” the journalist at the foreign minister. FM Qureshi responded by saying: “First of all you want your sentiments to be respected but look at the tone in which you are speaking… Is that the correct way?” The minister said that he did not block his Twitter account. “You have double standards and what you are propping up a certain sections agenda. I have been respectful to you.”

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