PFUJ, APNEC seek abolition of Information Ministry

Urge end to govt interference in professional work of Jang Group newspapers, freedom of press; petition filed under Article 184(3)

By our correspondent

ISLAMABAD: President Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) Abdul Hameed Chapra and Secretary General All Pakistan Newspapers Employees Confederation (APNEC) Pervaiz Shaukat on Wednesday filed a joint petition before the Supreme Court for a declaration to abolish the Ministry of Information.

Filed under Article 184(3) of the Constitution, the petition sought Supreme Court's direction to restrain the respondents from interfering in the freedom of press through mala fide and undue harassment of the members of the petitioner's organisations.

The Federation of Pakistan through secretary Interior Ministry, the secretary Information and Broadcasting Ministry and Ehtesab Bureau Chairman Senator Saifur Rehman have been made respondents, while world fame human rights activist Asma Jehangir will represent the petitioners.

The petition also asked the apex court to direct the Information Ministry to formulate an equitable policy for a just distribution of the government advertisements to the newspapers. It also sought a direction against the Federation and the Information Ministry to allow proper access for journalists to all the governmental records, the records of subordinate offices and authorities, enabling them to perform their functions effectively and properly.

In addition to this, they should also be instructed to make a law allowing the journalists access to public records and till such time the same was done, the petition added. The petition also asked for abolishing the Information Ministry as being burden on the national exchequer, being an instrument of repression and dissemination of mis-information.

It also asked to direct the respondents to make clear laws governing the subject of information, press and publications consistent with the constitutional rights.It also asked the court to declare that the arbitrary withholding of the government advertisements to the newspapers was violative of articles 18, 19 and 25 of the Constitution; direct the government not to interfere in any professional work of the newspapers of the Jang Group or any other publication, besides the arbitrary actions of the respondents individually or collectively against the Jang Group and other publications were mala fide without lawful authority and in utter violation of the fundamental rights guaranteed to the members of the petitioners by articles 4, 14, 18 and 19 of the Constitution.

The petitioners stated that their organisation was struggling for more than 40 years to promote a democratic culture in Pakistan and uphold the fundamental rights of which freedom of press and journalism was the most vital.

The petitioners stated that they had struggled against the military and civilian rule in order to provide people responsible information through the media, particularly the print media. They have also worked for improving the economic rights of the journalists and the press workers due to which the members of petitioners' organisation have also suffered on several accounts, they maintained.

The petitioners stated that the respondents have been successful in their alleged evil designs of curbing the freedom of press and journalists' through arbitrary distribution of advertisements and restrictions on the newsprint supplies - which was under total control of the Information Ministry.

The petition stated that as before in the past, the Information Ministry had used the offices of the federal government and the Ehtesab Bureau to harass and intimidate the petitioner organisation and newspaper owners and as such it had resulted in closure of independent newspapers, firing from services of independent journalists and of compelling the journalists to write to the tune of the government or censor important information which ought to be reaching the public, was a matter of public importance.

The petition stated that the Official Secret Act and the Press and Publications Ordinance, 1963, were violative of the freedom of the press, were chain around the freedom of journalists and hampered their independence.

The petition said that the respondents manipulated through distribution of newsprint quota, thereby making mockery of the guarantees of the freedom of the press and trade granted by the Constitution.

The petitioner stated that the livelihood and independence of the members of the petitioner's organisation was at stake as the respondents have unleashed the strategy for terrorising the Jang Group - which was the largest newspaper group of the country.

The respondents were also demanding that reputable and independent journalists be thrown out of the organisation of the Jang Group and be replaced by henchmen of the government - who might misinform the public of the actual facts which would be a complete negation of the freedom of press and freedom of trade and profession as guaranteed in the Constitution.

The petition stated that through the actions of the respondents and the absence of important legislation to give effect to Article 18 and 19 of the Constitution, the members of the petitioner organisations were being intimidated and harassed through the provisions of the Press and Publications Ordinance and the Official Secret Act.

The petitioners added that they cannot freely practice their profession and the freedom of press would not be able to fulfil the aspirations of the people - who have a fundamental right to information through this institution.

Meanwhile, the PFUJ-Dastoori has also decided to move the court of law against the highhandedness of the government against the freedom of press and democracy. It also condemned the government's victimisation policy against the Jang Group of Newspapers and pledged support for it. At a meeting in Karachi, it decided that a committee comprising secretary PFUJ and president Karachi chapter of PFUJ Rashid Aziz would file a constitutional petition.

The News International Pakistan