QUETTA: The Federal Executive Council (FEC) of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) Sunday expressed serious concern over complete denial of press freedom and freedom of speech and expression in the country since the formation of the PTI government led by Prime Minister Imran Khan.
“A systematic war has been launched by the government and anti-media forces to curb the freedom of expression and force the media houses to toe official line or face the government’s wrath,” the FEC said in its declaration issued at the end of a three-day meeting that began here on September 25, says a press release.
The meeting, attended by the FEC members and all the presidents and secretaries of journalist unions from across the country, was chaired by the PFUJ President Shahzada Zulfikar.
The meeting, hosted by the Balochistan Union of Journalists (BUJ), was called by the PFUJ Secretary General Nasir Zaidi to discuss curbs on freedom being faced by the media industry.
“From financially squeezing the media houses to imposing unannounced censorship, telephonic threats to owners and torture and kidnapping of journalists by the anti-media forces, every tool is being used to muzzle the voice of the free media,” said the declaration.
To start with, the declaration said the very first action of the new government was to put a financial squeeze on the media industry by bringing into question the amount, which it owed to the media and withhold payment of past arrears.
The media owners hit back by resorting to massive retrenchments, closure of a number of newspaper editions, delaying and slashing salaries by months together and in many cases massive reductions in the monthly emoluments of working journalists.
The working journalists came out on the streets but the government behaved more like a military dictatorship. The ultimate sufferers have been the working journalists, and they still are.
“Simultaneously, along with the financial squeeze, the government has started micro-managing the media with media advice, some openly and many through clandestine telephone calls, increasing the list of red-lines that the media was arm twisted not to cross, and forcing the media to resort to self-censorship of a kind never before forced on it in the past, even during military rules.”
The tactics resorted to by the establishment to force the media to ‘behave’ included unannounced censorships, blatant arm twisting of media professionals, abductions and arrests of journalists who refused to fall in line.
“Violation of Article 19 of Constitution by the state across Pakistan has become the norm,” said the declaration, adding, “This meeting holds Tehreek-e-Insaf government under Prime Minister Imran Khan directly responsible for the current crises in the media industry.”
“The FEC demands that the government forthwith abandon all its anti-media policies and sit down with the representatives of the media industry — PFUJ, CPNE, APNS, PBA — and civil society, including HRCP and PBC, to discuss the matter holistically and reach an accord that would guarantee media freedom as per the ruling party’s manifesto.”
“We urge once again that the PCP and Pemra need to be liberated from the information ministry to enable them to function as independent regulators and not as line departments of a government ministry to be misused for promoting the government’s agenda and maligning the opposition.”
The FEC also expressed its serious concern over blind abductions of journalists from the federal capital and rest of the country and arrest of Editor-in-Chief of Jang/Geo Group Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman in a decades-old land purchase case.
Mir Shakeel-ur-Rahman is still in the Nab custody, reflecting the impunity with which state institutions disregard the constitutional guarantees allowed to freedom of speech and press freedom.
The declaration also condemned in the strongest terms continuous attempts by the government to amend the relevant rules and regulations and to write fresh black laws to bring the social media under its full control.
The meeting also strongly condemned increasing cases of trolling and harassment of female journalists and anchorpersons of different TV channels by unknown groups, pretending to be above the state agents, to deny media freedom, freedom of expression and speech as per the vision of Father of the Nation Quid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, who wanted Pakistan to be a democratic country with guaranteed human and fundamental rights for all communities and entities.
The meeting demanded that all the media advices, issued by the Pemra from time to time, be withdrawn, attacks on journalists and media houses be stopped, and arm-twisting through open press advices and threatening phone calls be avoided. The meeting also condemned the practice of launching shady radio stations and TV channels using front sponsors.
“The general public is too smart not to see through the negative narratives and fake stories broadcast by these shady and clandestine media houses and their anchors lacking professionalism,” the declaration said.
It demanded safety and security of journalists, media workers and regional media outlets in all the provinces, particularly in Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and Sindh, as it is the responsibility of the provincial governments and state machinery to provide safety and security to all the segments of the society.
The FEC also called upon the government to rationalise advertisement rates and policy in line with the escalating increases in prices all around.
The meeting also urged the government to clear pending arrears of Rs6 billion with the Press Information Department, which will help to some extent in resolving the financial crisis being faced by media industry and journalist community in shape of retrenchments, layoffs, non-clearance of dues and denial of salaries.
The FEC also demanded that the government should take all necessary steps to ensure freedom of press/media which in turn guaranteed transparency, good governance, strengthening the process of democracy, democratic norms and democratic institutions in the country.
The FEC also resolved to continue its struggle for freedom of speech and expression guaranteed in Article 19 of the 1973 Constitution of Pakistan and play its role as a frontline defender of constitutional rights of journalist community and media workers across Pakistan as always.