Pakistan is witnessing worrying new policies and practices that can have serious consequences on freedom of expression and safety of media in the country, according to the Pakistan Press Freedom Report issued by Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF) on World Press Freedom Day commemorated globally on May 3.
The report cites aggressive system of editorial advice to television channels by Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA); legal action prohibiting speeches and interviews of Altaf Hussain, head of Muttahida Qaumi Movement, and the failure of the judicial commission fulfill its mandated responsibility to identify culprits and fix responsibility for the murderous attack on popular television talk show host Hamid Mir as worrying recent developments related to freedom of expression and impunity for crimes against media. The reports also expresses concern over the passage of the cyber crimes bill by the National Assembly that could be used to curtail free expression; and the banning of feature film “Maalik” and two documentaries ‘Among the Believers’ and ‘Besieged in Quetta’.
The report also notes a number of positive developments related to freedom of expression and safety of media in Pakistan. These included, lifting of the ban on YouTube after three years, creation of “Editors for Safety (EfS)”, the decision of the Sindh Police to reinvestigate the killing of journalist Shan Dahar in Larkana District and the conviction of the killer of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa journalist Ayub Khattak.
The report notes that the process of taming television channels that started in 2014 after the murderous attack on Geo Television talk show host Hamid Mir continues unabated, with PEMRA issuing directives that impinge on editorial independence of Pakistan’s television news channels. PEMRA has been issuing directives and press advise to television channels on a range of issues coverage of Pakistan’s decision not to send ground forces to Yeman; the tragedy in Mina in which many Pakistani citizens died; the coverage of the funeral of Mumtaz Qadri, the convicted killer of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer, and the ban the broadcast of images and speeches of Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) chief Altaf Hussain. MQM is the fourth largest political party in the National Assembly and second largest in the Provincial Assembly of Sindh province.
The report termed the leaked report of the Hamid Mir Judicial Commission as a setback for efforts to combat impunity for crimes against media, and added the the commission report displayed a depressing failure on part of the commission in fulfilling its responsibilities, which included ascertaining facts, identifying culprits and fixing responsibility for the murderous attack on Mir. The Pakistan Press Freedom Report calls on the government to officially release the Commission report including all its annexures and appendices including submissions by Hamid Mir and other witnesses.
The Pakistan Press Freedom Report also expressed concern that the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill passed in the National Assembly could be used to limit free expression in Pakistan’s cyber space.
The report also expressed concern at the banning of the the feature film Maalik and documentaries ‘Among the Believers’ and ‘Besieged in Quettta’ and said there is no justification in banning content it is not prohibited by law and does not incite violence and added the government’s hardline policy in defining what is acceptablecould also have serous negative repercussions for revival of Pakistan’s nascent film industry.
The reports also documents that twelve media personnel were injured in three different incidents in the first four months of 2016.
The Pakistan Press Freedom Reports also notes positive developments related to freedom of expression and safety of media in Pakistan. These include lifting of the ban on YouTube after three years, creation of “Editors for Safety (EfS)”, the decision of the Sindh Police to reinvestigate the killing of journalist Shan Dahar in Larkana District and the conviction of the murderer of Ayub Khattak.
Complete report is available in English at: https://www.pakistanpressfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/Pakistan-Press-Freedom-Report-final.pdf