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May 3, 2020

Press Freedom Day: Journalists’ bodies demand release of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman

Top Story

May 3, 2020

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) has chalked out a wide ranging plan to observe Press Freedom day today (3rd of May) and will arrange protest rallies across the country as the media and press freedom in the country is deteriorating continuously and apart from media freedom, freedom of speech and expression guaranteed in the Constitution of Pakistan is severely compromised, says a press release issued here.

The PFUJ in collaboration with Rawalpindi and Islamabad Union of Journalist (RIUJ) will arrange protest rally in front of the Parliament House to press its six point demands forwarded to Government of Pakistan for the restoration of media and press freedom in the country. Apart from rally in Islamabad and Rawalpindi, all the other unions of journalists will also hold protest rallies across the country, in support of six point demands and restoration of media and press freedom in the country which is passing through worst time in history of Pakistan. The day will herald the begging of second phase of ‘Sahafi Bachao [save journalists] Movement’.

Demands on the press freedom day include:

1- Withdrawal of announced and unannounced ban and press advices placed on media. 2- Immediate Restoration of retrenched journalists and payment/ clearance of dues pending with government and media houses. 3- Law for services structure in TV channels. 4- Abolition of all the laws and regulations devised and designed to erode and compromise Media and Press freedom. 5- Restoration of 25% fixed quota for regional newspapers and abolition of centralised policy. 6- Immediate implementation of wage board award and 7- Relief package for media workers effected by COVID-19.

In addition to the above demands, the PFUJ also stressed the government to immediately release Jang and Geo Group Editor-in Chief Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman whose detention in a 34 years old property case is apparently an attempt to gag and control mainstream media.

Currently media in Pakistan is under serious threats and facing worst financial crisis that was created to suppress media and voices of dissent in the country. Even some religious elements have been launched to demean and defame media as whole and discredit journalist community specifically.

However, the leader ship of PFUJ under its President Shehzada Zulfiqar and Secretary General Nasir Zaidi is committed to fighting on all fronts for safeguarding media and press freedom which is hallmark of journalist community in entire world including Pakistan. In the fight against corruption and ensuring good governance and transparency, only free, fair and balanced media can ensure all such objectives for bringing respect for Pakistan in comity of nations.

“Currently due to highhandedness and arm twisting tactics Pakistan is losing credibility across the world due to deteriorating media freedom in the country and further saw decline on media freedom index globally” the PFUJ reminded. “The glaring example of arm twisting is detention of Jang/ Geo Group Editor-in-Chief Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman by the National Accountability Bureau in a 34 years old property case,” the PFUJ statement read.

On the Press Freedom Day, the PFUJ has shown concern on deteriorating media freedom and direct life threats to journalists and some top anchors, just to malign them into controversies by using dirty tricks and social media by posting image and photographs of female family members with abusive and threatening hashtags.

“Such a campaign was harming and tarnishing the image of country around the globe at a time when Pakistan needs to promote its soft image, which is only possible through free media and working journalist and media workers; therefore, the State should take appropriate measures to ensure media freedom, freedom of expression and speech in the country guaranteed by the Constitution of Pakistan,” the PFUJ demanded.

The largest forum of journalists in the country also demanded to take immediate and appropriate measures for the protection of lives of journalists from deadly coronavirus which infecting and impacting journalist community due to the criminal negligence of owners of the media houses and government machinery which failed in implementation of SOPs and guidelines issued by the federal and provincial governments.

The PFUJ has urged the journalist community to come out on the streets today in large numbers – observing prescribed safety measure of social distancing and wearing gloves and masks -- in support of their demands and for the resolution of issues confronted by the media in Pakistan. Rallies across Pakistan will be culminated after Iftar and Maghrib prayers.

Meanwhile, Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)’s “Report on Media Safety and Press Freedom in 2019-2020” released to commemorate the World Press Freedom Day on May 3 (today), has detailed the alarming situation surrounding COVID-19 created for the Pakistani media.

This year, the media in Pakistan, is operating under a new and challenging environment created by the spread of COVID-19. Since the spread of the pandemic in the country, two journalists have died and at least 38 media workers have tested positive.

The report says that between January 2019 and April 2020, journalists in Pakistan worked under increasing restrictions with little accountability of those who limit freedom of expression, continue to target journalists and aim to discredit the work of the media through a range of tools from attacking journalists to placing financial constraints on media outlets as a pressure tactic.

There have also been at least five arrests of journalists. The most high-profile case of a media personnel arrested is the arrest of the Jang and Geo Media Group Editor-in-Chief Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman on March 12, 2020. Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman was arrested by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) irregularities in the purchase of his residential property 34 years earlier, however, it raised concerns about press freedom and appeared to be an attempt to pressurise the largest media group in the country. Despite numerous local and international calls for his release, Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman remains behind bars.

According to the report most media organisations as well as the government have not ensured the effective implementation of safety protocols nor the timely provision of personal protective equipment (PPE) to media workers.

A key recommendation of the report is calling on Pakistan’s media associations, including the Pakistan Broadcasters Association (PBA), The All Pakistan Newspaper Society (APNS) and Council of Pakistan Newspaper Society (CPNE), to develop detailed workable guidelines for all media workers on how to cover the coronavirus safely and to monitor their implementation by their member organisations.

The PPF has also urged the government to provide support to the media in ensuring the safety of media workers.

In addition to the protection of media workers, the coronavirus has also created new challenges for the media on how to cover the pandemic, ensuring accurate information as fake news is circulated on social media platforms, making sense of data on the virus and government rhetoric that undermines media coverage as well as the financial setback created by the virus, which has send much of the world in some form of lockdown.

The report also recommends that all levels of government recognise the need for free flow of information during this time, respect the right to freedom of expression and to release all journalists who have been arrested for their work.

The report also discusses factors surrounding press freedom and the safety of journalists in Pakistan during 2019-20 that has seen an increased muzzling of the freedom of expression in a country that has an already weak track record on press freedom.

Journalists have come under fire for their work in various arenas and have faced physical assault, including in two instances deaths of journalists due to their work. In at least one instance this year, a journalist was briefly abducted and harassed. In another instance, the house of a journalist was raided and a publishing house printing one of renowned writer’s books in Urdu was raided.

In addition to physical acts of violence and intimidation, journalists have faced threats, both in person and online. This already high-risk environment which journalists operate under has been further made difficult by the policies and rhetoric of the government, which in 2019 likened critical media coverage to treason. While the government dismissed curbs on press freedom in Pakistan as a “joke”, the policies and proposals of the government including media courts and social media regulations, indicate a control over the autonomy of the media.

Meanwhile, Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) has on numerous instances provided “advice” to the media which creates controls on what the media can cover and what could be unacceptable. During this time period, on numerous occasions, television channels or shows have been removed from air during interviews with opposition politicians.

Between January 2019 and April 2020, there have been proposals to regulate social media content. This led to various social media companies threatening to leave Pakistan and creating a grim picture for the opportunity for free expression online.

An environment where journalists are the target of government and other officials’ scorn and are often threatened for their work — both verbally and physically — creates a bleak picture for press freedom and the safety of journalists in Pakistan.