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New government initiates moves to sweep away media restrictions

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

IFJ Welcomes "New Era" as Pakistan Sweeps Away Media Restrictions

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) today welcomed actions by Pakistan's new government to withdraw restrictions on the media that were imposed by President Pervez Musharraf last year.

The IFJ, which visited Pakistan and pressed President Musharraf and the new government for changes following elections in February this year, says the prompt action by the new political leadership signals the start of a "new era" for independent journalism in the country.

"We have been urging a fresh start and now it looks as though we are on the way," said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. The IFJ and its affiliate the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists agreed on a programme of support for reform and renewal of journalism in the country during the IFJ visit last month.

The new Information Minister Sherry Rehman has introduced a parliamentary bill proposing to end the ban on live broadcasts and also to scrap punishments for journalists who "defame" the president, the government or the army.

In addition, bans on radio and television news and criticism of the government put in place when emergency rule was imposed in November will be abolished. These restrictions included jail terms and fines for those responsible for live programmes or any publication that the army and the government finds defamatory.

Rehman, who met with the IFJ mission, says all media will be free to broadcast their programmes. President Musharraf had blocked live broadcasts by several private channels after they televised rallies in support of the chief justice and criticisms of the president and army.

The IFJ congratulated the PFUJ for the intense lobbying and campaigning for journalists' rights that had put the media crisis on the political agenda. "Our colleagues in Pakistan have opened the door to a new era for journalism and independent media," said White.

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

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