ISLAMABAD/LAHORE: The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) and the All Pakistan Newspaper Employees Confederation (APNEC) have expressed reservations over the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority’s decision to suspend the Geo News for 15 days and impose Rs10 million fine, terming it disastrous for the freedom of the press.
According to a press release issued here on Friday, central leaders of both the unions in a meeting led by PFUJ President Afzal Butt reviewed in detail the situation of Geo after April 19’s life attempt on Geo News anchorperson Hamid Mir, attacks on the Jang Group journalists and burning of The News, Jang newspaper vans.
The PFUJ and APNEC leaders also strongly condemned the illegal decision of closing the Geo News by cable operators. They also demanded of the concerned quarters that after completing the 15-day ban on Geo News, the same should not be extended in any plea and no hurdles be made for Geo in performing its professional and journalistic activities.
They also decided that PFUJ, APNEC and all press club bodies would visit the Geo offices throughout the country to express solidarity with them on June 7 (today). Meanwhile, civil society and media leaders, in a meeting held at the Safma Secretariat, condemned the suspension of Geo News for 15 days by Pemra and termed it an assault on the freedom of expression and democratic values according to a press release.
Attacks on journalists and media houses with impunity and strangulation of a media house is a stark reflection of authoritarian tendencies that may be fatal for the overall democratic dispensation, observed I.A Rehman, Director of Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. Senior journalist Hussain Naqi lamented the disunity among the media ranks and called for unity among the media persons for the freedom of press and safety of journalists while criticising those forces who are using strong-arm tactics to muzzle the press.
While opposing the suspension of Geo, Tehreek-i-Insaf MNA Shafqat Mehmood expressed concerns about the way the media had been flouting its freedom by running vicious and slanderous campaigns against politicians. He emphasised that he was for more freedom and against restrictions with a greater sense of professional responsibility.
Commenting on the current state of the media, senior journalist Anjum Rashid said that never in the history, the media have so amateurishly undermined its own freedom to settle business scores. Educationist Abbas Rashid emphasised the need to view the press freedom and safety of journalists in the broader perspective of freedom of expression and right to life that cannot be compromised.
Columnist Kamran Shafi warned that attacks on the press will lead to attack on democracy and the Nawaz Sharif government should not have abdicated its writ in the face of unlawful conduct of certain forces.
Director South Asian Partnership Tehseen proposed that all the democratic forces must unite in defence of the freedom of press and democratic values. Editor Farah Zia said that the state institutions must follow tyhe due process of law and justice rather than clamping down on a media house and its workers.
Journalists from various media organisations lamented the current environment in which they are being forced to work against their conscience and called on media houses to allow professional editors to perform their role in keeping high professional standards and media ethics. They appealed to working journalists to unite against the attacks on their colleagues and protect their freedom and economic rights.
Summing up the consultative process, Secretary General of Safma Imtiaz Alam said that there cannot be any compromise on the freedom of expression and safety of citizens and journalists. We demand, he said, more freedoms and will stand up against the violation of fundamental human and civil rights, including a free media. Condemning the attacks on journalists and forcible shutdown of the Geo News, he said infighting between various media houses had undermined the very premise of press freedom and a divided media community cannot fight for a cause they have themselves demolished.
Alam said freedoms and rights are indivisible and can be fought and defended by all the democratic forces together as a part of strengthening the democratic values and democratic system. He warned against those adventurous elements that are resorting to unconstitutional and illegal means to impose their will or trying to pitch the media against the national security institutions. He said the media was bound by the Constitution not to bring armed forces and the judiciary in disrepute. He underlined the necessity to expand the horizon of freedoms while accepting the greater responsibility to use their freedom with care and professional caution. He cautioned against further aggravating the current tussle between the Jang Group and the military establishment. The time is for fire-fighting and not for adding fuel to the fire as some elements are desperately trying, he observed. He emphasised the need to adopt a legal course of action and called upon parliament, political parties and civil society organisations to play their due role in resolving the current tussle between a section of the media and the armed forces that deserve the support of the whole nation in its struggle to eliminate the scourge of terrorism.
The participants resolved to convene a national conference in defence of the freedom of expression, tolerance, democratic values, observing due process of law, a responsible and free media and strengthening the constitutional role of all state organs within their respective spheres.
Our correspondent adds from Lahore: The governing body of Lahore Press Club (LPC) on Friday condemned the Pemra’s decision to suspend the Geo News for 15 days as a punishment for running an alleged campaign against the ISI and its chief in April.
In a statement, the LPC Governing Body members, while terming the move as an economic murder of journalists, demanded immediate withdrawal of the decision.
LPC President Arshad Ansari, Vice-President Afzal Talib, Secretary Shahbaz Mian, Joint Secretary Farzana Chaudhry, Treasurer Asif Chaudhry and others made it clear that the journalist community would resist suspension of any channel and not accept dictatorial acts in the country.
They said no compromise would be made at the cost of media freedom and economic murder of journalists.They appealed to the civil society, lawyers, human rights organisations and the people of Pakistan to support the journalist community during the current crucial period.
They said Pemra had punished Geo today and other channels or media outlets could face the same fate if they did not stop their internal fight. They urged all media houses to get united at a single platform to defend the media and its freedom.They announced that a protest would be held outside the LPC on Saturday (today) at 5pm against the suspension of Geo News.