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Politicians, journalists vow to play role for freedom of expression

Updated June 13, 2018

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ISLAMABAD: Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman speaks at the seminar on Tuesday.—Tanveer Shahzad/White Star
ISLAMABAD: Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman speaks at the seminar on Tuesday.—Tanveer Shahzad/White Star

ISLAMABAD: Speakers belonging to different political parties on Tuesday vowed to play their role for freedom of expression and assured media personnel that they would take steps to protect their rights.

They were participating in a seminar titled “Elections 2018 — Threats to Freedom of Expression” organised by the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) at the National Press Club.

Former Senator Farhatullah Babar, who belongs to the Pakistan Peoples Party, said that a creeping coup had taken place — far softer and subtler than any previous coup — leaving a civilian government without powers and media without freedoms.

He said without seizing a single TV station the entire media had been brought to heel. The vast damage done could be seen in the media exercising self-censorship, the journalists threatened and abducted.

“Not long ago a major TV channel mysteriously went off air in most of the country and newspapers owned by a group also disappeared from newsstands. Some columnists have resorted to Twitter as newspapers have expressed inability to publish their writings. Social media is under attack as online activists have been kidnapped and tortured and websites blocked,” he said.

Senator Shibli Faraz of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf said that the freedom of expression was a collective responsibility and suggested that legislation should be done to ensure media freedom. He said that those who were levelling allegations against journalists should file cases rather than maligning them.

Former information minister Pervaiz Rashid said that democracy had not been able to flourish in Pakistan and parliament, which should be the most powerful institution of the state, had always been subservient to one or the other institution.

Mr Rashid, who belongs to the PML-N, said that it would have been better if the director general of the Inter-Services Public Relations and representatives of the judiciary had been invited to attend the seminar as justice could not be done without their presence.

The PML-N leader warned that Pakistan’s foreign policy could be changed through tweets — just like the tweet that came during the visit of the Iranian president changed foreign policy regarding Iran.

Chief of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl Maulana Fazlur Rehman claimed that media was involved in his character assassination and alleged that most of the media houses selected topics as per priorities of the establishment.

“However we should not speak anything which would damage the state. On the other hand, it is believed that the state is important and citizens are not respectable or only those citizens are respectable who have sticks in their hands,” he said.

Senior journalist M. Ziauddin said that media, being a watchdog, covered terrorism, so it should also cover counterterrorism and highlight flaws in it.

TV anchorperson Hamid Mir said that freedom of the media had already been curbed and according to his assumption things would become worse after the July 25 general elections.

Another TV anchor Mubashir Zaidi said that the media had struggled for democracy and suggested that politicians should play their role for the freedom of the media as now it was their turn.

PFUJ President Afzal Butt that every journalist could analyse that there was unseen pressure on the media houses. “However, it is more worrying that when ISPR DG said that media houses should tell that if we are pressurising them but not a single media house had the courage to reveal the fact,” he said.

TV talk-show host Munizae Jahangir said that it was the first time that female media persons were being abducted.

Journalist Matiullah Jan said that it hasd become difficult for journalists to speak or write. He said that in the past journalists, after failing to file stories, used to give their opinion on social media but now media owners had started to force them to delete their posts from Twitter and Facebook.

Published in Dawn, June 13th, 2018

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