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Published by Noman Hashmi

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Categories:Types, Reviews
Published by: Noman Hashmi on Nov 02, 2011
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Events since September 11
have heavily influenced media policy in Pakistan. Prior tothe Western focus on Islamic terrorist groups, Pakistan was moving slowly toward reducinggovernment control of media. Now the West is offering Musharraf's government strongincentives to cooperate in the fight against terrorism. This has dramatically altered the politicallandscape of Pakistan, and appears to be accelerating the trend toward media openness. WithPakistan under a military government that claims it is moving towards "real democracy," it is allthe more imperative to monitor the state of the media.This report chronicles the events that have impacted freedom of expression over the pastyear in Pakistan and notes the highs and lows of the past year to find that the state of the mediahas been mixed. While some measures give reason to applaud, the certainty of things moving inthe right direction is unclear. Media freedom in Pakistan is not as permanent as the governmentwould have us believe. If anything, the importance of media freedom in Pakistan has grown justas the impatience of the government with the press has grown.
Pakistan’s Constitution was promulgated in 1973 and was subsequently amended anumber of times by the legislature and executive order. Article 19 of the Constitution, asamended, provides as follows:Every citizen shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression, and there shall befreedom of the press, subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interestof the glory of Islam or the integrity, security or defense of Pakistan or any part thereof,friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality, or in relation tocontempt of court, commission of or incitement to an offense.On October 12, 1999, the military, led by General Pervez Musharraf, deposed thegovernment of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, and the new government declared the Constitution“in abeyance.” However, as of March 12, 2003, the Constitution of Pakistan has been fullyrestored.
New Press Laws
The Pervez Musharraf government has been busy honing two new laws aimed atregulating the freedom of the press. Indications are that the laws will be promulgated soon.While the government insists the new laws are meant to ensure media independence, working journalists are wary, saying they will only serve to create and consolidate a nexus between thegovernment and the media owners.Ministry of Information says the laws have been drafted after holding detaileddiscussions with the All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS) and the Council of PakistanNewspaper Editors (CPNE) - both representing interests of the owners of the media - andincorporating their recommendations. However, the All Pakistan Newspaper Employees Council(APNEC) and the All Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) - both representing theinterests of the working journalists - have rejected the laws, saying they fail to safeguard theirrights.
 The Press Council of Pakistan Ordinance (2002)
The Ministry of Information says this law will incorporate an Ethical Code of Practice topromote healthy and responsible trends in journalism and will give legal cover to the constitutionof a Press Council aimed at safeguarding freedom of the press and will set up an inquirycommission to take up public complaints against newspapers or journalists that violate the Code.It is proposed that the Council comprise 17 members, with the chairman nominated by thepresident, who will either be a retired judge of a high court or be eligible of becoming a judge of the Supreme Court of Pakistan.The Council would include four members each from APNS and CPNE. Two willrepresent the organizations of working journalists but they must neither be office-bearers of theseorganizations nor take up posts once on the Council. One member each would be nominated bythe leader of the house and leader of the opposition in the National Assembly, the NationalCommission on the Status of Women, the Pakistan Bar Council, the Federation of PakistanChambers of Commerce and Industry and a prominent human rights organization that is at least10 years old.The Council will be empowered to ensure implementation and/or revision of the EthicalCode of Practice for journalists, publishers, editors, news agencies and newspapers. The Councilwill entertain complaints from any individual or organization and after looking into them,
 appoint a commission of inquiry to probe the matter at its head office, provincial office orregional office, where it deems fit.The Council will be empowered to look into a complaint about alleged interference in thefreedom of the press by the government, a political party or any other organization or individual.
 The Press, Newspapers and News Agencies Registration Ordinance (2002)
Information ministry officials say this law aims to safeguard the freedom of the press, setprofessional standards for newspapers and news agencies, and make them accountable toPakistani society. It purports to help newspapers and news agencies protect their independenceand monitor any incidents of use of force or instances of intimidation used to block publicinterest news items from being published. The law seeks to streamline and soften the procedureof issuing declarations for any new publication. It seeks to introduce a system of checks andbalances to rationalize the discretionary powers of the relevant authorities authenticating orcanceling the declarations.Significantly, for the first time in the country, a law will regulate the operations of newsagencies. It will seek to address why a newspaper has to go through an elaborate process tosecure permission to start publication when practically anyone can start a news agency with a faxand e-mail and service several newspapers without consent.
Implications of the new press laws
Until the final drafts are made public, one can only guess how these two new laws willaffect press freedom in Pakistan. On the surface, these laws seem to reduce the ability of officialpowers to curb the freedom of expression, but deftly put the onus of guarding this freedom on thepress itself through the proposed Code of Conduct. As one Ministry of Information official put it:"The new laws quash government powers to ban a publication but provide for measures to ensurethat the press follow a stipulated code of ethics and behave responsibly."The Press, Newspapers and News Agencies Registration Ordinance (2002) will repeal themuch reviled Press and Publication Ordinance (1963) and replace the Registration of PrintingPress Ordinance (1988-97) that authorized the government to take stringent action against anynewspaper.While the new ordinance reportedly suggests minor penalties to check violations bynewspapers, it has no provision that equips the government to ban any publication. The penalties,

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