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ISLAMABAD, May 26: President General Pervez Musharraf on Friday renewed his firm commitment to the freedom of press and declared that the government would facilitate access to information.

“I am for total freedom of the media, which is the fourth pillar of the state and is the first line of defence in today’s world,” he stated in a wide-ranging address at the 18th awards ceremony of the All-Pakistan Newspapers Society.

But President Musharraf underlined the importance of factual and research-based analytical journalism, saying the media was free to criticise and point out flaws in the implementation of government policies.

The president said he did not believe in withholding information or hiding facts as he had no skeletons in closet, adding that everything he did was in the national interest.

In response to points raised by APNS President Mir Shakilur Rehman, the president directed expeditious progress vis-a-vis formation of a Press Council.

The president asked Information Minister Muhammad Ali Durrani to encourage regular briefings by government officials to keep the media abreast with latest developments.

Highlighting the pivotal role of media in improving the country’s image, he said perceptions about Pakistan did not reflect its economic reality and achievements.

He pointed out that some regional countries, which were suffering far greater problems, were perceived as better off.

The ceremony was attended by Information Minister Mohammad Ali Durrani, APNS president Mir Shakilur Rehman, PML president Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, PML Secretary-General Mushahid Hussain Sayed, Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting Tariq Azim, Minister for Railways Shaikh Rashid Ahmed, Balochistan Governor Owais Ghani, Punjab Chief Minister Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi and Sindh Chief Minister Arbab Ghulam Rahim.

Dr Tanvir A. Tahir, APNS’ executive director, received a special award in recognition of 25 years of deicated service.

Orient Advertising (Pvt) Ltd led the finalists with top award in business performance with five awards, Midas (Pvt) Ltd stood second among the recipient of best business permoance award with five awards, Manhattan Pakistan (Pvt) Ltd was third among the finalists with four awards, Synergy Advertising (Pvt) Ltd also received four awards, Adcom (Pvt) Ltd and Corporate & Marketting (Pvt) Ltd (CMC) received three awards each while JWT Asiatic (Pvt) Ltd got one award.

Journalist awards were bestowed upon Amir Mir of monthly Herald (best investigative reporting), Rauf Klasra of The News International (best scoop), Nazir Ahmed Bhatti of The News International (best column English), Orya Maqbool Jan of daily Jang (best column Urdu), Aziz Solangi daily Kawish (best column regional language), Ms Shimaila Matri dawood of Monthly Newsline (best feature English), Rizwan Ahmed Tariq of daily Jang (best feature Urdu), Ms Humera Noor of Ibrat Magazine (best feature regional), Ilyas Khan of monthly Herald (best article English), Ms Razia Fareed of daily Jang (best article Urdu), Manzoor Jokhio of daily Kawish (best article regional), Munawar Abro of monthly Newsline (best cartoon) and Mubarak Almas of daily Khabrain (best photograph).—APP