HRCP concerned over increase in media curbs

ISLAMABAD: The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) on Wednesday expressed concern over increase in media curbs and held both government and military agencies responsible for the situation.

While launching its fact-finding report “Curbs on freedom of expression in Pakistan” at a press conference, the commission called on the federal and provincial governments and other state institutions and services to take appropriate steps to prohibit and prevent unauthorised, illegal interference with freedom of expression in the country.

“There should be no interference in the sale and distribution of any newspaper, nor should any TV channels be deliberately displaced. The system of issuing ‘press advice’ on the part of state agencies must cease immediately and the complaints documented in HRCP’s report redressed. The state must also set up complete and effective information commissions in each province to implement its obligations under the Right of Access to Information Act, 2017,” speakers said on the occasion.

Commission’s spokesperson points out that in a number of areas newspapers have been banned and there is no one to tell who has placed this ban

HRCP spokesperson I.A. Rehman said that in a number of areas newspapers were banned. On the other hand, no one was ready to tell who has banned Dawn, The News and Jang, he said.

“HRCP talked to a number of bookshop owners, stall holders and hawkers over the issue and they confirmed that the complaints were correct, but none of them was ready to be quoted out of fear,” he said.

“Press advice is given even during live TV programmes. There is fear in the environment due to which not only people will stop speaking but they will also stop thinking,” he said.

Mr Rehman said that the journalist community had been deliberately divided by some elements. Massive campaigns were launched against some journalists on social media, he said.

Former Awami National Party Senator Afrasiab Khattak, who worked on the report, said that for the past few years the country had been facing a creeping coup.

“Initially media groups were controlled and now efforts have been started to control journalists. It is our duty to stand with those who have been raising voice as democracy cannot be ensured without freedom of media,” he said.

He said that security departments wanted to dominate, but they did not want to become accountable. He said the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement came into being because political parties stopped speaking about the rights of people.

Former Senator Farhatullah Babar said it had been observed that rather than approaching journalists directly the owners were approached to stop news and force the journalists to exercise self-censorship.

He said the civil-military equation had been written on terms of military alone and consequently some state institutions exercised power without accountability and were averse to transparency. This lay at the root of curbs on expression, he said.

Mr Babar said the freedom of expression was the right of every citizen, not only of journalists, and asked people to make maximum use of the right to information law to expose wrongdoings, promote transparency and accountability. He also called for implementing the December 2016 unanimous report of the Senate on speedy and inexpensive justice that also included legislation to make the Inter-Services Intelligence accountable for its actions.

Senior journalist M. Ziauddin said that it was strange that no one took responsibility about banning the circulation of newspapers and news channels.

“In the past after such issues negotiations were used to be held between media and the government but now the government also seems helpless. If there is an issue of Khalai Makhlooq, it should talk to us. Today, the situation is worse than the Press and Publication Ordinance which was used in the past to curb media,” he said.

Veteran journalist Rashid Rehman said the HRCP wanted to launch the report before the general elections, but while the report was being finalised and printed, things had become even worse.

“While anchorpersons speak, voice is muted a number of times. Even on social media and an organised campaign has been started,” he said.

Rights activist Marvi Sirmed said that there were a number of examples in which journalists, who were criticising a state institution, were threatened by militant organisations despite the fact that they had never filed any story against militants.

Published in Dawn, August 30th, 2018

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