Journalists unions, press workers slam Saif for press advice

Qadri condemns rulers for trying to stifle voice of press; had judiciary been independent Jang would not have had to face such problems: Imran; Constitution guarantees Press freedom: Justice Shah; politicians, editors back Jang Group;

By our correspondents

RAWALPINDI: The journalist unions of the country have condemned alleged victimisation of Jang Group by the government and termed the action as detrimental to the freedom of press.

Reacting to the ongoing tussle between the government and the Jang group, the office bearers of various journalist unions dubbed the campaign as tantamount to clipping wings of the press and vowed not to desist from any step to ensure its freedom. Shafi-ud-Din Ashraf, Central Chairman, All Pakistan Newspaper Employees Confederation (APNEC), said in a statement on Tuesday that nobody, including the rulers, had any right to put pressure on newspapers about publishing or otherwise of news reports. He said the admission by Ehtesab Bureau chief Senator Saif-ur-Rehman that he had asked Jang to publish and not to publish certain news reports tantamount to open interference in the freedom of press and and is a form of press advice.

He said newspaper workers had made a very long struggle to gain freedom of press, and now no ruler will be allowed to sabotage this freedom. He said as far as the issue of tax between the government and the Jang Group is concerned it should be resolved honestly and in a transparent manner, according to the law and Constitution. Muhammad Zakir Ansari, Chairman, All Pakistan Newspaper Employees Confederation (APNEC) Karachi, said Chief of Ehtesab Bureau, Senator Saif has no role in the affairs of newspapers and neither he has any constitutional role in this connection. He added the pressure in connection with actions relating to Income Tax and Customs makes the whole matter further non-transparent.

Zakir Ansari said the admission by Saif of having made telephone calls to get news published in favour of the government is a form of press advice. Wirasat Hussain, President and Afzal Baloch, General Secretary, respectively, of the Karachi Union of Journalists (KUJ), said putting pressure on newspapers to publish or not to publish any news in any case negates the freedom of press.
LAHORE: PTI chief Imran Khan meets PAI president Tahar-ul-Qadri at a seminar organised by Mir Khail-ur-Rehman Memorial Society, on Tuesday. --The News photo


They said the statement of Saif-ur-Rehman, chief of the Ehtesab Bureau, that he gave instructions to the Jang Group to strengthen the hands of the prime minister was interference in the freedom of press. They said he has no right to issue such instructions. They appealed to All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS) not to leave a member of theirs alone as if today the government has this attitude with Jang, tomorrow it can adopt the same with other newspapers. Therefore, the APNS should unitedly face the pressure and aggression, they said.

The Karachi Union of Journalists (Dastoori) also strongly condemned the pressure on newspapers by Saif-ur-Rehman to publish news in favour of the government and giving dictation to newspapers. KUJ President Rashid Aziz, Secretary General Suhail Afzal and other KUJ office-bearers, in a joint statement, termed the government action against Jang as the worst from of revenge.

The KUJ leaders said at this crucial juncture the journalists' community expresses its complete solidarity with the Jang Group, and pledges to make every sacrifice for the freedom of press. The office-bearers of Peshawar Press Club vehemently denounced government action and resolved to brave 'black-mail and threats' at every level. All journalists and representative bodies are with the Jang Group in its battle for the freedom of press, President Peshawar Press Club added.

The Khyber Union of Journalists (KhUJ) also lent its countenance to the Jang Group and expressed profound concern over 'Chairman Ehtesab Bureau's campaign against it'. The KhUJ office bearers said it was shocking to learn that Senator Saifur Rehman, was pressurising income tax department to take action against Jang Group. Directives by the Ehtesab Bureau Chairman to newspapers to publish pro-government news reports is regrettable that Saifur Rehman himself admitted the same.

"After this, it is not possible for the torchbearers of freedom of press to remain silent," the office bearers added. President of KhUJ (Dastoor Group) dubbed the action as detrimental to freedom of press as envisaged by the Constitution of Pakistan. He said Saifur Rehman's confession in this regard was a negation of the government's claims of upholding the press freedom.

Lahore Press Club president Syed Saqlain Imam Wasti has condemned the government's strong-arm tactics against the Jang Group of Newspapers. In a statement Tuesday, he said it was open intervention in the freedom of press. He said hostility against print-media in a democratic setup was regrettable. He said the onslaught against the press was being spearheaded by a man who neither knew a word about politics nor had any respect for journalism.

He warned the government to refrain from such tactics as the journalist community knew how to defend itself. Punjab Union of Journalists Secretary General I H Rashid also blasted the government for victimising the press. He said the press wouldn't allow any kind of intervention in its affairs and no government official should try to meddle in the affairs of press. Speakers at the seminar 'The government and the press -- face to face' organised by the Mir Khalilur Rahman Memorial Society in Lahore on Tuesday, to mark the seventh death anniversary of the founding editor of the Jang Group of publications, termed the government's pressure on Jang Group as undemocratic and un-Islamic.

They strongly condemned the government for its negative attitude towards the national press and asked the rulers to fulfil their electoral promise of press freedom and resolve all the issues with the Group through negotiations. Pakistan Awami Tehrik (PAT) chairman and PAI president Prof Tahir ul Qadri condemned the government for what he called stifling the voice of press. He said the freedom of speech was the first basic right guaranteed by Islam and democracy, but the government was bent upon usurping this basic freedom.

He alleged the government was demolishing all pillars of state one by one. He said after taming judiciary and the armed forces, the government was now after the press. He warned if this last pillar fell then the survival of the opposition forces would be threatened. He said Islam had taught the faithful to stand by the truth in the face of worst opposition and quoted a Hadith that said, "to speak truth in front of an oppressive ruler is the best of jehads."

Citing Quranic verses, he said the obedience to The Almighty and the Holy Prophet (PBUH) was absolute and unconditional but all other obedience including that to the rulers was conditional to their own obedience to Quran and Sunnah. Maulana Qadri cited the first address of the first Caliph Hazrat Abubakar (RA), who directed the people to obey him only when he himself was obeying Quran and Sunnah and to check and correct him whenever he strayed from the right path.

Qadri also cited examples from Islamic history when the Holy Prophet (PBUH) changed his decisions as majority of Muslims were against them. He criticised the 13th, 14th and 15th constitutional amendments saying the voices of the President and Parliamentarians were gagged through these changes and attempts were being made to pass Shariah Bill so that an Islamic cover could be given to the dictatorial policies.

Chief of Pakistan Tehrike Insaf Imran Khan came down hard on the government, and said that all the governments who came to power after independence always tried to suppress the freedom of thought. He said the first ever Islamic war was fought because one group wanted to suppress the freedom of thought, and that Islam has reached its zenith in all fields when freedom of though was allowed. He said the most dangerous thing was that every ruler wanted to curb freedom of thought instead of promoting it for the sake of the country's development.

About Ehtesab, he said credibility was a vital ingredient if it was to be carried out successfully. He also raised the question of why Ehtesab Chief Senator Saif-ur-Rehman, responsible for the accountability process, had engaged himself in so many other tasks, such as calling up newspapers to seek support for the government, as he had himself said he had done.

Imran said majority of the people was corrupt due to the system and corrupt were ruling the country while those who should be in power were hiding in fear. He said there was dire need of strong institutions and the press was the last one fighting for its survival. Irshad Ahmed Haqqani, delivering the opening speech at the seminar, said the reaction of Jang Group was due to the wrong policies of the government regarding the press. The step was taken by the group in self-defence as it never wanted to start any conflict with any institution of state.

Haqqani said the freedom of press was equal to that of personal freedom and press freedom and democratic freedom were different parts of the same picture. The government can exert more pressure on Jang Group regarding paper quota, advertisements but nobody can deny the rights of the press. He asked both press and the government to refrain from taking steps which could lead to a conflict. He asked the government to review its policy and stop victimising the Group.

Columnist Abdul Qadir Hassan said conflict between the press and government started on the day the government was formed. He said, "if both the government and press join hands then who will take care of the people." In his view the Jang Group has bigger mandate than that of the government as it was publishing newspapers for general public. He said Editor-in-Chief Mir Shakil never asked him to write columns in favour or against the government whatever he wrote was published as it was. He added sensible rulers never began any conflict with the press as it were the rulers who suffered in such wars.

Chief Justice (retd) Dr Nasim Hassan Shah, who chaired the seminar, said that constitution of the country fully allowed freedom to press and if any government put any bar on it, it would be taking an unconstitutional step. He said after five decades the same situation had surfaced again which was not at all a good trend. He said some newspapers published news without any authentic proofs which was very bad on their part and they should refrain from publishing such reports in future. He praised the services of Mir Khalilur Rehman for the newspaper industry.

Renowned columnist Munnoo Bhai said it was unwise of a government enjoying heavy mandate to gag press freedom. He said the outcome of wrestling against a democratic institution would be disastrous for the government. He criticised Senator Saifur Rehman for following an agenda to consolidate the rule of the Sharifs instead of conducting Ehtesab.

He quoted Mir Khalil ur Rehman,"the basic responsibility of the press is to look after the right of the people to know the facts." He said the basic problem of the country was that one per cent minority was occupying the 99 per cent resources which must be removed in order to make the country prosperous. Chief Editor of Daily Pakistan and president, Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors (CPNE), Mujeebur Rehman Shami, said the loyalty of journalists was to the nation, its ideology and the country, but not to the government. He recalled that never in the history of the subcontinent had any government emerged victorious out of a conflict with the press.

He said Senator Saifur Rehman was trespassing his mandate under Ehtesab Act because it empowered him to investigate into the matters of politicians and government officers only and the press or newspapers were nowhere mentioned in it. He said different agencies were there to investigate into the 'illegal activities' of the newspapers. Jamil Athar, Editor of Daily Tijarat, underlined the immediate need for developing an environment of tolerance and justice in the country so that it could be taken out of the current crises.

Najam Sethi, Editor of English weekly The Friday Times, regretted this was the first time that any major newspaper group had initiated the idea to bring the government and the press face to face. He pointed out the cudgels should be taken up for every newspaper, and not only when a major group was in trouble. He however lambasted the government's assault on press freedom. He said when the rulers were in power they disliked the press and when the same people were in opposition they wanted press support. He said he was very happy to learn that Jang Group had stood against the government and this was the only way out of the present crisis. He said the day was not far away when the prime minister himself would visit the residence of Mir Shakil and say sorry to him for his wrong doings against Jang Group, as he had after carrying out similar vindictive action against both himself and his wife, Jugnu Mohsin, in retaliation against material being carried in their weekly.

Earlier, president of the society, Dr Hassan Rizvi gave a brief introduction of the topic of the seminar. The speakers at a similar seminar in Islamabad assured their support to the Jang Group in the present row with the government for the cause of press freedom. The speakers were unanimous in saying that the present conflict was a bad precedent in the history of the country's journalism. "If the government succeeded in overcoming the group, then the newspaper may be the first one but not the last," the speakers feared.

They asked the government to resolve the present controversy and recalled that even the martial law regimes had failed to pressure the journalists. Tuesday's programme was the second leg of the seminar organised to commemorate the seventh death anniversary of Mir Khalilur Rehman at a local hotel. Law Minister Khalid Anwar failed to show up in the seminar for reasons best known to him.

This time the speakers included Editor-in-Chief of The Pakistan Observer Zahid Malik, MQM leader Sheikh Liaquat Hussain, Editor of Jang Shorish Malik, Editor of Al-Akhbar Ghulam Akbar, Editor of Ausaf Hamid Mir, Editor of Kainat Mohsin Raza, President of Rawalpindi Islamabad Union of Journalists (Dastoor) Zafar Mahmood Malik, Vice President of Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) C R Shamsi and Chairman Jang Executive Committee Rana Tahir Mahmood.

Zahid Malik insisted that they should always keep the national interest above all considerations. He appealed to the journalists to exercise their freedom to the optimum level by upholding truth which was also guaranteed in the Constitution. They should also not forget the national interest because they did not enjoy unfettered freedom, he maintained. "Press is not a sacred cow and national interest should dictate its agenda or policies," Zahid Malik insisted.

He said the bodies like the APNS and the CPNE, publishers and editors, were with the Jang Group and would continue to support them because it was a common cause involving the press freedom. Such organisations, he said, would play their role for the amicable resolution of the conflict. About the Karachi situation, he supported Saifur Rehman, saying one should not forget that some time back, terrorists were on the rampage there.

The MQM's Sheikh Liaquat Hussain assured support to the Jang Group on behalf of his party, suggesting that his party had always raised its voice for the press freedom. He was optimistic that the days were not far away when the journalist community would succeed and the Jang would continue to serve the people in the same fashion as it was doing now. Sheikh Liaquat said that the government was responsible for all acts of terrorism, especially in Punjab, and claimed that no one had, in the recent years, heard of any sectarian violence in Karachi.

He also unleashed severe criticism against the prime minister and asked Chairman of Ehtesab Bureau Saifur Rehman to tell the source from which he established his business concern in Dubai. Shorish Malik asked the government to solve the problem with open-heartedness as the people of Pakistan would be the ultimate losers in the final round. At the same time, the newspapers should also keep the sanctity of words and truth at all costs without any fear or favour, he added.

Ghulam Akbar recalled the era of Ayub Khan when there was a lot of repression on the journalists. He quoted the example of a newspaper, Kohistan, which collapsed due to the government pressure. Hamid Mir demanded across-the-board accountability against politicians, newspapers and editors of different newspapers instead of victimising alone the Jang Group on tax evasion charges. He said Mir Shakil was lucky in a sense that all working journalists were with him. Mohsin Raza asked senior editors of different newspapers to play their part to end this controversy and said a group could not fight for its cause alone and others should also come for its rescue.

The News International Pakistan