Journalists urge government to give up hold on press

By our correspondent

LAHORE: The symbolic hunger strikes by journalists and press workers against the government bid to gag the press, particularly victimisation of the Jang Group, continued in far and wide of the country on Sunday. The hunger-strike camp at the Lahore Press Club on Sunday completed its fourth day. At the end, Jugnoo Mohsin read five points on behalf of the Committee for the Free Press (CFP).

The demands were: 1) Withdrawal of the government's control on newsprint; 2) Formation of a body to distribute ads equally among all the publications free of government's control; 3) Free electronic media, including TV and radio; 4) Rejection of Press Council and 5) Abolition of the post of information minister and that the government should legislate to make the libel laws more effective and powerful.

Earlier, addressing the participants, Imtiaz Alam said the news about the patch-up between Mir Shakil and the government published in some newspapers was baseless. He said it was true that the government had released the newsprint quota and withdrawn the FIA as it knew that it was a bad move and the Jang Group would be vindicated by the Supreme Court on February 9. So to save face, it released the newsprint quota. He said the current fight was not Jang's alone but that of all newspapers.

Even if the Jang group and the government had struck a deal, he said the journalists could not trust the government to abide by its promises as there were no guarantees that it would not turn on another newspaper. He asked Shakil not to play into the government's hands, adding the struggle for press freedom would continue till all the issues were resolved. He demanded the withdrawal of government control on advertisement quota, newsprint, PTV and radio, abolition of the information ministry, rejected the Press Council and asked the government to spend Rs 1 billion on the welfare of the people. He said all journalists at the district headquarters would go on hunger-strike and hold demonstrations.

Rashid Rehman, a member of the Committee for Free Press, told the participants that the struggle was bound to succeed as the government would bow before the press. He said the effort by journalists had forced the government to bow and it had begun negotiating with Shakil through Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif.

Rashid said the outcome of the dialogue was unclear but the CFP would not accept an agreement against the interests of the journalists and the press freedom. He asked the journalists to maintain unity. Chief of Musawwat Party Musarrat Shaheen said the government should resign as it had turned on the press. She said the government told the people that it was a matter of taxes, but everyone knew how much tax Nawaz Sharif, Shahbaz Sharif and Saifur Rehman paid. She said the government had exposed itself to the international media on press freedom. Zaigham, a labour leader, demanded Shakil-ur-Rahman raise the commission to hawkers working in other cities from 33 per cent to 40 per cent. He also demanded that the Jang group take back all newspapers returned from outside Lahore.

In Rawalpindi, the hunger strike camp by the journalists, organised under the aegis of Rawalpindi-Islamabad Union of Journalists continued for the third day on Sunday in front of the Jang office. Senior members of the editorial staff of daily Jang including its editor Shorash Malik, editorial advisor Farooq Azam, chief news editor Yaseen Sabir, assistant editor Ghani Rizvi, PFUJ (Dastoor)'s vice-president Saood Sahir, president of Rawalpindi Press Club Mohammad Nawaz Raza, APNEC (Dastoor)'s president Ramzan Aadil, press manager Mahmood Khan, Mateen Fikri of Jang, Qaisar Abbas of Asas and Shahid Malik of Pakistan participated in the hunger strike that began in the morning and continued till 5:00 in the evening. Various political, social and union leaders visited the camp and expressed solidarity with the workers of Jang Group of newspapers.

Prominent among those who addressed on the occasion were PFUJ's Saood Sahir, RIUJ's Zafar Malik and Chaudhry Azeem and Rana Ghulam Qadir of Jang. They welcomed amicable resolution of the row with the government and demanded that the 80 cases instituted against journalists and workers of the group should be withdrawn immediately and its accounts unfreezed and newsprint and ads released forthwith.

The News International Pakistan