KARACHI: Thousands of journalists from the Jang/Geo group and several other media organisations, during a protest demonstration outside the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) office, said that the closure of Geo TV was unacceptable for them and the journalist community would not hesitate to render any sacrifice for the cause of freedom of expression.
The protesting journalists demanded restoration of the Geo transmission at the earliest.They were joined by the Karachi Union of Journalists (KUJ) and the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) along with members of civil society, which included the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and Aurat Foundation among others.
On the occasion, a charter of demands was read out which was later submitted to the Pemra officials. It condemned the illegal meetings held by the Pemra officials which announced that the Geo Television offices should be sealed. “Pemra should set its house in order and give the Jang/Geo group a fair hearing,” it was stated in the charter.
Representatives of the Jang/Geo group said that they had apologised for the content of its programme, Utho, Jago Pakistan, which had hurt the sentiments of Muslims. “The programme has been suspended and an inquiry is under way,” it was stated. “However, other television networks, especially ARY television, has repeated the Qawali 63 times. Pemra should take notice of that as well.”
It was stated that the shutdown of the Geo transmission across the country by cable operators was illegal. “The cable operators have termed Geo television a traitor, but the cable operators show foreign films on their individual channels, which are a violation of the copyright law.”
By banning Geo television, it was stated that the public at large would be deprived of its right to information. “The people of Pakistan have chosen Geo television as the provider of information. They vote for it with the remote.”
It has been stated that the 7,000 employees of Geo television are now scared about their livelihoods as journalism is their bread and butter. “By targeting Geo and pushing for its ban, certain forces are depriving its employees of their livelihood.
“We are neither blasphemers nor traitors, we are only doing journalism,” it was stated.Journalists at the rally held placards of ‘long live Geo’, ‘long live press freedom’, ‘Geo or Jeenay do’ and pictures of Hamid Mir. Wearing black armbands, they raised slogans for press freedom and said that they would protest for press freedom till their dying breath.
Shaheen Qureshi, senior journalist, while addressing the rally, said, “The people who have gathered here today are sepoys of press freedom. This is not just an attack on the Jang/Geo group but on all of the media. The forces which are after us will one by one silence all the voices that differ with them.”
He said that the attack on Hamid Mir ‘the icon of Pakistani journalism’ was pre-planned. “We, as journalists, have read history. We know that red lines are drawn by certain groups. Once a red line is crossed, threats follow. That is why many of our editors have had to seek asylum abroad.”
Time and again every sane voice in the country is branded as a traitor. The list includes Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Zulifkar Ali Bhutto, Mufti Mehmood, Najam Sethi and Beena Sarwar. “Whoever loves is not egoistic. Then why are you being egoistic? We love Pakistan but we do not need a certificate from you. We are not professional patriots. We are not getting paid for declaring patriotism to Pakistan.”
He said that a certain anchor had been indulging in unprofessional practices and spreading false propaganda against the Jang/Geo group. “Are you getting paid by the establishment for toeing a certain line of thought?”
Faisal Aziz, Geo TV Karachi Bureau chief, said, “The journalists of Pakistan are brave. A bullet will not silence them.”Addressing the participants, the President Karachi Union of Journalists (KUJ) G M Jamali demanded the restoration of Geo transmission immediately. He said they would oppose shutting down any channel or newspaper in Pakistan.
Senior PFUJ leader, Khursheed Abbassi, called upon the authorities to get the Geo transmission restored within two days.
The Karachi Press Club (KPC) Secretary General Amir Latif said they were with Geo from the very beginning of the matter. “A ban on any channel or newspaper is an attack on press freedom.”
The resolution said that democracy should be strengthened as the country could not afford any illegal and unconstitutional act.
The resolution said that freedom of expression is an important right and if this right was curbed, all other rights would also be gagged and therefore the freedom of expression should be ensured. The resolution said that no unconstitutional and undemocratic act in the country would be accepted and such acts would be resisted.
Meanwhile, Reporters without Borders is alarmed by the order issued by three members of the Pemra closing three Geo Television channels – Geo News, Geo Tez and Geo Entertainment – and cancelling their licences.
The order was rapidly disowned by Pemra in a press release that said it was issued following a meeting of only five Pemra members that did not comply with Rule 3(4) of PEMRA Rules 2009, under which at least seven of Pemra’s 12 members must attend a meeting for it to be validly convened.
The release added that the decision that Pemra took at an earlier and valid meeting on May 9 to “refer the (Geo Television) case to the Ministry of Law for legal opinion” was therefore still in effect.
“The hasty decision by three Pemra members that was immediately disowned is indicative of a desire by certain government representatives to use any means, including illegal ones, to ban Geo News from broadcasting,” said Benjamin Ismaïl, the head of the Reporters without Borders Asia-Pacific desk.
“We urge Pemra not to yield to pressure from the intelligence agencies and the defence ministry, and to ensure that the law protects freedom of information.” The Jang and Geo groups have been a target of repeated threats, intimidation and prosecution as a result of the coverage of activities of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in Balochistan.
Agencies add: Meanwhile, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) chief Altaf Hussain said it was wrong to snatch and break the cameras and mobile phones of Geo and Jang journalists and to attack the Geo OB vans.
He said it was the fundamental right of a person to stage peaceful protests and demonstrations on minor or major issues and people should hold their peaceful protests within the limits of law, Constitution and moral standards.
In a statement, Altaf Hussain said that the people should not be allowed to break the law under the guise of protests.
The MQM chief said it was a debatable issue whether Geo did things intentionally or unintentionally. However, it was wrong to beat journalists belonging to Geo TV, who are mostly from the poor and middle class.
“We cannot term the protesters’ actions legal and constitutional. Their violent protests not only cause damage to expensive equipment but also injure journalists, drivers, technicians and cameramen associated with the Geo Television,” he said.
He appealed to the people in the name of Pakistan’s security to keep their protest demonstrations peaceful and not to hurt Geo employees and journalists.
Earlier, stating that the freedom of press was essential for strengthening democracy, former prime minister Yusuf Raza Gilani said that the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) government had given “unprecedented freedom” to the press.
Speaking to media persons here, Gilani said the PPP believed in freedom of the media adding that media should also show a responsible attitude.
“The PPP-led government extended unprecedented freedom to the press which was not given by any government in the past,” Gilani said at the Multan airport. He said the PPP governments had always provided freedom to all in the country without discrimination and had never imposed restrictions on media institutions.
Acknowledging the role of journalists against dictatorial and autocratic regimes in the country, he said their sacrifices for the freedom of expression and social liberties had paved the way for rejuvenated democracy in the country.
“Democracy and media go hand-in-hand and the freedom of the media guarantees sustained and stable democracy,” the former prime minister said.
Meanwhile, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Human Rights Cell cautioned against the banning of Geo TV and instead called upon the government to strengthen the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) to ensure that electronic channels should abide by a code of conduct that should be effectively enforced and regulated.
“Resorting to a ban is censorship and there is no room for censorship in a democracy,” stated Dr Nafisa Shah, Central Coordinator of the PPP Human Rights Cell.
“While the cell endorses that press and media must exercise responsibility and not run vilification campaigns, we will not be a party to curbs on media freedom,” she added.
It is a fact that some electronic channels have run full scale campaigns, sometimes maligning national institutions, and constitutional positions and often jeopardising national interest. This is both the fault of the regulator, Pemra, and the inability of the channel owners to enforce the code of conduct. It is time that the media community agrees to abide by the code of conduct and maintain strict neutrality while covering events, she said.
The last PPP government and its leaders were repeatedly made a victim of media trials but the PPP government demonstrated patience and tolerated criticism. ”We are concerned that the Ministry of Information has failed to address the raging media wars, the lethal infighting between channels, and has become a bystander, which has led to the present impasse,” she said quoting the cell members as saying.
The Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), district Peshawar, in a meeting passed a resolution that said that no channel in Pakistan should be banned, instead all TV channels must respect the Islamic injunctions.