Media restrictions under reconsideration in Pakistan

New York, April 11, 2008—The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomes the new Pakistani government’s move to lift restrictions on media imposed by President Pervez Musharraf last year. Information Minister Sherry Rehman today introduced a parliamentary bill to repeal amendments made to media laws when Musharraf suspended the constitution in November 2007, according to international news reports.

In comments made to journalists, Rehman also promised a compensation fund for families of journalists killed or injured on duty, and the establishment of a consultative media body comprised of journalists and government officials.

“We applaud this bill and hope to see it passed swiftly into law,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “We welcome these positive statements by the Pakistani government and urge it to sustain its efforts to improve conditions for the media.”

Musharraf amended the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) Ordinance on November 3, 2007. Bans on live coverage of violence and many call-in political talk shows were among the limitations set on electronic media. Print journalists were also threatened with punishments for comments deemed defamatory of the government or military, including fines and jail terms. Media restrictions remained in place after emergency rule was lifted on December 15.

CPJ documented a campaign of government harassment to enforce the legislation. All radio and television news except for state-run broadcasts were shut down by government order on the basis of the amendments, and resumed only after channel executives agreed to sign a government-mandated “code of conduct.” Pakistan’s largest independent broadcaster GEO TV was only allowed to resume domestic cable broadcasts on January 22. Police also attempted to close printing presses and censor critical articles.

The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) welcomed the government’s move but also called for the code of conduct to be abolished. The PFUJ is seeking the repeal of all laws that restrain freedom of expression to be repealed.

Rehman also condemned the mistreatment of journalists covering violent incidents in Karachi on Wednesday. Five reporters were attacked by masked men who destroyed their equipment, according to local news reports and press freedom groups. Violence between rival political groups, including many lawyers, broke out after two former government ministers supportive of Musharraf were publicly attacked in two separate incidents on Monday and Tuesday in Karachi and Lahore, Reuters reported.

GEO TV and another private channel, ARY TV, were taken off the air for two hours on Monday after repeatedly broadcasting footage of one of these attacks, the Pakistan Press Foundation reported. Rehman said this was a decision made by cable operators without input from PEMRA, according to the daily English-language newspaper Dawn.|