In Pakistan, a media group cries foul over government advertising

CPJ’s Bob Dietz discusses the situation in Pakistan. (mp3).

New York, March 27, 2007— The Committee to Protect Journalists is concerned about a deteriorating media environment in Pakistan that includes both business retaliation and outright attacks on media companies.

Pakistan’s largest independent English-language media group, the Dawn Group of Newspapers, distributed a letter on Friday from Publisher Haroon Hamid, who said President Pervez Musharraf “has become increasingly intolerant toward criticism in the press and toward the publishing of news that reflects poorly on the performance of his government on security matters.”

In the letter, Hamid said authorities have punished his company by withholding government advertising, a revenue source on which Pakistani papers rely heavily. “Since December 2006, the Dawn Group is facing massive advertising cuts equivalent to two-thirds of total government advertising,” he said.

Hamid said the government has also withheld a television broadcast license from the Dawn Group, even though the application has gotten requisite approvals from the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority and the Ministry of Information.

“We are very concerned by threats to the independent Pakistani press,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “When the government pulls advertising and holds up licenses, it sends the unmistakable signal that it wants critical coverage to be toned down.”

At least one other media group has come under attack this month. On March 16, , riot police fired tear gas and roughed up staff inside the Islamabad office of the Jang Group, which houses Geo TV, the Urdu-language Daily Jang, and English daily The News. The raid came a day after authorities ordered Geo to stop airing its daily news program, “Aaj Kamran Khan Ke Saath” (Today with Kamran Khan).

Minister for Information and Broadcasting Mohammad Ali Durrani announced today that Pakistani authorities will work with media groups to form a press council to address numerous complaints from local media houses hit with reprisals after critical coverage of the government.