Friday, November 13, 2009

PAKISTAN: JOURNALISTS TARGETED BY INSURGENTS AND DRACONIAN STATE CENSORSHIP

PAKISTAN: JOURNALISTS TARGETED BY INSURGENTS AND DRACONIAN STATE
CENSORSHIP

As the Pakistani state combats different insurgent groups, increased
violence this year has led to a crackdown on media. Some radio stations
have been ordered to not broadcast BBC Urdu-language programs and
parliament is ratifying severe regulations to control how the conflict is
covered, report the Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF) and other IFEX members.
Journalists are also caught between the military and extremists as they
struggle to practice their profession.

On 29 October, changes were made to the Pakistan Electronic Media
Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) law, introducing clauses that ban the
broadcast of statements from militants, live footage of a suicide bomber or
terrorist attack, as well as news that is counter to the ideology of
Pakistan and state sovereignty. Broadcasts are also banned that defame or
ridicule the head of state, armed forces, or the executive, legislative or
judicial branches of the state, report IFEX members. PPF reports that
lawmakers from the ruling party and the opposition supported the
amendments.

The government is combating extremists in many parts of the country under
their control, but introducing a system of censorship will only obstruct
plural voices and media development. "It's unacceptable for a democratic,
civilian-led government to propose legislation that is essentially
censorship," said Freedom House.

At the same time, PEMRA told 15 FM radio stations to stop broadcasting BBC
news bulletins because of technicalities over the terms of their licenses,
reports PPF, calling this international ban a "serious breach of freedom of
expression."

Meanwhile, in Quetta, Baluchistan, a respected newspaper "Asaap" was shut
down by a paramilitary group in August. There has been no reaction from the
government, says Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

A recent situation report by the International Federation of Journalists'
(IFJ) Asia-Pacific branch describes Pakistani journalists under threat from
separatist groups, nationalist forces, political parties and paramilitary
actors. The report focuses on the media environment in Balochistan, where
journalists struggle with low wages, lack of training and resources, as
well as frequent threats and violence with no protection offered by
employers. Those who try to practice journalism in this tense environment
tend to practise self-censorship. Some journalists must work for more than
one media outlet to earn an income, says IFJ. In fact, one journalist told
IFJ that he works for 11 media outlets. Others become journalists because
they can find no other work; they only wish to acquire a press card to take
bribes for stories, undermining the profession.

Local journalists, who work with international organisations like BBC,
Reuters, and others, enjoy a better working environment but face threats
from separatist groups who feel they have a right to international media
space to air their views, says the report.

When it comes to security concerns, journalists are cautious not to offend
any of the armed groups, says IFJ. But journalist Chisti Mujahid was
murdered in February 2008 for writing about a chief of Balochistan's
powerful Murree tribe who had been killed and buried in neighbouring
Afghanistan.

"The Baloch nationalists often dictate to us that their reports should be
published in such and such a manner," Razaur Rahman, editor of the "Daily
Express", told IFJ. Journalists have been shot at, bombed, beaten and
detained. Because of their writing, some have had their equipment seized;
others have been told to leave Balochistan or be killed.

Despite tensions in Balochistan, Pakistan's media environment has
flourished in recent years with the expansion of television and radio,
providing live domestic and international news coverage, commentary, and
call-in talk shows, giving diverse and critical viewpoints, says Freedom
House. But the recent clampdown on independent media is a serious setback,
and restricting press freedom during periods of unrest is a disservice to
the Pakistani people.

Related stories on IFEX.org:
- National Assembly Standing Committee recommends curb on electronic media
coverage: http://ifex.org/pakistan/2009/11/03/pemra_law_amendments/
- Dire conditions and insecurity confront Balochistan journalists:
http://www.ifex.org/pakistan/2009/11/10/balochistan_media_report/

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