Press freedom in pakistan Sunday, 30 April 2006 Mass communication Mood: d'oh Fifty-nine years of struggle for press
freedom “Press is considered to have duty towards the society not only to educate, cultivate and reflect public opinion but also to raise its voice against things, which are wrong and like to hurt the public, their right and welfare. It serves as the watchdog of the society, which keeps an eye on everything, which is going on. Hence, it is considered as sine qua non for a healthy and sane society.” (Zamir Niazi—Press in Chains). Pakistan came into existence on 14th august 1947. Quaid-eAzam became its first governor general had a clear concept press freedom. He said, “I expect you (journalists) to be completely fearless. If I go wrong for that matter Muslim league goes wrong in any direction. I want you to criticise it honestly as its friend, infact as one who whose heart is beating with Muslim nation.” He did not allow legislation to suppress the press. Just one month of his death in September 1948, Public Safety Ordinance was implemented in October. In the first 7 years of independence from 1947 to 1953, 31 newspapers were banned for different time periods including literacy magazines like Naqoosh, Savera and Adab-e-Latif (Zamir Niazi-fettered freedom). Then came Ayub khan in 1958 with the first marshal law of this country. He took his first action against Progressive Papers limited (PPL) by taking it over under the security act (1952), which Zamir Niazi said was amended suitably for the purpose. He established the National Press Trust (NPT) in order to ensure the high standards of journalism in Pakistan. This organization turned the PPL papers into the mouthpieces of successive governments. The NPT owned about 11 newspapers in English, Urdu and Bengali in six major cities of united Pakistan (east and west). In June 1961, the Associated press of Pakistan was taken over by the Ayub khan because of its pathetic financial conditions (the agency was even unable to pay the salaries of its employees). From then on the agency has been used brutally to disseminate the propaganda of government and its functionaries to spread the better image of Pakistan. Since its take over it is mostly run by PID (press information department) men who sometimes have or have not journalistic knowledge which is necessary to serve the agency. Even today the managing director of APP is Fazal Ur Rehman, who is a PID man! And due to the persistent managements’ ignorance, Ministry of Information and broadcasting have always been able to dictate APP. He also promulgated the press and publications ordinance and introduced the system of press advice. A single phone call from press information department was enough to hipe a small issue or to completely drop a news story or photographs that annoyed the government. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto began his Awami raj with the vow of complete press freedom. He began his government by suspending two NPT editors. He was annoyed by the unbiased political coverage of PPI -- Pakistan’s second national news agency and decided to “fix up” the agency’s management. He cancelled the government’s subscription to make the agency suffer from the financial crisis. When he failed to force the agency to follow the official lines he decided to change the agency’s management and give his friend. Between 1971 and 1977. Bhutto launched a fierce crackdown on journalists and newspapers. Various newspapers were banned and journalists were hounded and insulted (Zamir Niazi – fettered freedom). His policy of nationalization also endangered the freedom of press as the government got the control of 60% of the
advertisements. He used them as the tool to force the newspaper to become the tame voice of government. Zia ul Haq came with the blackest of the black law, the Press and Publication Ordinance, amended in 1963. This law increased the amount of security deposits from Rs. 10000 to Rs. 30,000.all the handouts and press releases by the government were made necessary to be published by the newspapers and in addition it authorized the government to issue warning to suspend the publication. He also gave the concept of pre- censorship. Whatever annoyed the government was censored even before the publication. He also gave the idea of self-censorship, which is still haunting our press, as it is something, which is still to be understood by the public of Pakistan. Thai concept has damaged the press even more than pre- censorship He also promulgated the libel act (Pakistan Penal code 499 and 500), which had its root in colonial past. This act forbade any kind of defamation against any person even if it is true or is in the interest of the public. Thus, depriving press of its right of surveillance and being watchdog of society. 1900 is considered the decade because the press started to flourish gradually. The main reason was the ending of Press and Publication Ordinance in Junejo’s time. Many new newspapers came out and made their audiences. Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto were unable to completely restrict the press because they governed for very small times. But Benazir most prominent act for curtailing the press freedom was to continue her father’s obsession to ruin the PPI. And who can forget the Nawaz Sharif desire of curbing the neck of PTV that changes its opinion according to the party in control. Musharraf’s era seem to be a beautiful dream for the freedom of press as he allowed the cable television to run in Pakistan, press can now criticize government and its functionaries more easily. But his Ordinance of 2002 and 2004 for APP seem to be the same way of keeping it under perfect control. This ordinance says that the agency’s Managing director is to be selected by Federal government as well as its budget is to be decided by it. The point here is that untill and unless the MD is selected by federal government, the agency cannot exercise free flow of information except the official version of every event. He has once again promulgated the Press and Publication Ordinance, which is somewhat familiar to the old one. Now the question for this nation is how long we are going to bare these restrictions on the press in the name of public interest and how long we will take to come out of this transaction face to emerge as mature press. According to me, as General Pervez Musharraf is the great favourer of “moderation and enlightment,” he should leave the press out of governments control and allow the press to make mistakes and learn from them. it is only if the government stops intervening and allow the press to take the responsibility from within and do what ever they want for the public interests.