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New govt's decision to remove Musharraf's media restrictions welcomed

New govt's decision to remove Musharraf's media restrictions welcomed
The new regime: This handout picture shows Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani shaking hands with army chief General Ashfaq Kayani in Islamabad in March 2008. Pakistan's new government Friday moved to lift harsh restrictions on the media that were imposed by President Pervez Musharraf under a state of emergency in November, a minister said.Photo: AFP/PID/File

The new Pakistani government’s move to lift restrictions on media imposed by President Pervez Musharraf last year has been welcomed by press freedom organisations. Information Minister Sherry Rehman Friday last introduced a parliamentary bill to repeal amendments made to media laws when Musharraf suspended the constitution in November 2007, .

In comments made to journalists, Rehman also promised a compensation fund for families of journalists killed or injured on duty, and the establishment of a consultative media body comprised journalists and government officials.

“We applaud this bill and hope to see it passed swiftly into law,” said Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) Executive Director Joel Simon. “We welcome these positive statements by the Pakistani government and urge it to sustain its efforts to improve conditions for the media.”

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), which visited Pakistan and pressed President Musharraf and the new government for changes following elections in February this year, said the prompt action by the new political leadership signals the start of a “new era” for independent journalism in the country. “We have been urging a fresh start and now it looks as though we are on the way,” said Aidan White IFJ General Secretary.

Musharraf amended the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) Ordinance on November 3, 2007. Bans on live coverage of violence and many call-in political talk shows were among the limitations set on electronic media. Print journalists were also threatened with punishments for comments deemed defamatory of the government or military, including fines and jail terms. Media restrictions remained in place after emergency rule was lifted on December 15.

CPJ documented a campaign of government harassment to enforce the legislation. All radio and television news except for state-run broadcasts were shut down by government order on the basis of the amendments, and resumed only after channel executives agreed to sign a government-mandated “code of conduct.” Pakistan’s largest independent broadcaster GEO TV was only allowed to resume domestic cable broadcasts on January 22. Police also attempted to close printing presses and censor critical articles.

The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) welcomed the government’s move but also called for the code of conduct to be abolished. PFUJ is seeking the repeal of all laws that restrain freedom of expression to be repealed.

Rehman also condemned the mistreatment of journalists covering violent incidents in Karachi on Wednesday. Five reporters were attacked by masked men who destroyed their equipment. Violence between rival political groups, including many lawyers, broke out after two former government ministers supportive of Musharraf were publicly attacked in two separate incidents on Monday and Tuesday in Karachi and Lahore, Reuters reported.

GEO TV and another private channel, ARY TV, were taken off the air for two hours on Monday after repeatedly broadcasting footage of one of these attacks, the Pakistan Press Foundation reported. Rehman said this was a decision made by cable operators without input from PEMRA, according to the daily English-language newspaper Dawn.

Date posted: April 14, 2008 Last modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 545