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IFJ demands suspension, revamping of abusive media authority

(IFJ/IFEX) - The following is an IFJ media release:

IFJ Demands Suspension Of Pakistan Media Authority PEMRA

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) supports its affiliate, the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), in demanding the suspension of the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA), which has stepped up its efforts to restrict the media since President Pervez Musharraf imposed a six-week state of emergency in early November.

The IFJ and PFUJ say it is impossible for journalists to properly do their work and cover the February 18 elections in a free atmosphere unless the Government revokes amendments to media laws, lifts all bans on broadcasters (including GEO-TV), and desists from pressuring cable operators.

The PFUJ said the media regulatory body was misusing its authority and has called for a Senate debate on the concerns about PEMRA's operations. It said PEMRA officials were acting like police, rather than officials of a regulatory body, and seeking to influence and pressure broadcasters with regard to media coverage of the campaign for national elections, postponed to February 18 after the assassination of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto in December. The union has received several complaints from broadcasters about the pressure applied by PEMRA officials.

Under the state of emergency, the Musharraf regime amended ordinances governing the print and electronic media to tighten controls on journalists and media institutions, especially broadcasters. The PFUJ and the IFJ are extremely concerned that the amendments remain in place despite the lifting of the emergency decree in December, and are being applied to restrict fair coverage of the election campaign.

The PFUJ reports that the caretaker government is not only citing the amended laws in its efforts to gag the media, it is bypassing PEMRA's governing body, even though the disputed laws require that this body must guide the authority's actions.

It recommends that the structure of PEMRA must be changed. Media representatives rather than police should be made part of the Council of Complaints along with representatives of civil society. PEMRA's Board of Governors and citizens should be given equal representation on the council.

The PFUJ also reports that threats have been made against Sarike private television channel ROHI, where staff has been ordered to "behave" or face consequences. The PFUJ believes the threats are in relation to ROHI's coverage of conflict in southern Punjab.

Leading television news anchors Shahid Masood, Hamid Mir, Kashif Abbasi, Asma Sherazi and Asma Chaudhry, many of whom work for GEO TV, have all been banned from broadcasting.

"Pressures on the media and registration of cases against journalists in the interior of Sindh, are casting doubts over free media during the coming general elections," PFUJ said in a statement.

IFJ Asia-Pacific Director Jacqueline Park said the formation of a press council is pointless until respect for media rights and press freedom is first enshrined in the law.

"The two anti-ordinances which have been issued against the press must be withdrawn along with current bans on GEO news and other news channels," Park said.

"With the current situation being as it is in Pakistan, especially following the assassination of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto on December 27, it is more important than ever that the media are free to carry out their professional duties and keep the public informed.

"This current atmosphere of intimidation and silencing of journalists by the government is unacceptable and the international community needs to send a strong message to authorities that press freedom is essential in order to hold public figures accountable and promote democracy".

The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 120 countries.

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