President Pervez Musharraf has handed unprecedented powers to the Pakistan Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA), allowing it to seize the broadcast or distribution service equipment of television and radio channels and suspend their licenses.
The ordinance which came into effect on June 4, 2007 has also displaced the Council of Complaints, the body under which complaints against broadcasters were previously referred. PEMRA can now make up new rules effective against any stations that might be opposed to the government without informing parliament. Fines for such violations under these new rules have also been raised to Rs 10 million and Internet Protocol TV, radio, mobile TV, and owners of private TV channels have now been brought under PEMRA regulations. This effectively places the electronic under the direct control of the government through PEMRA.
The Asian Human Rights Commission condemns this blatant attack on the freedom of the media through this ordinance introduced by President Musharaff. This is quite obviously a military action against these stations who, as is their constitutional right, have openly criticized and reported on the abuses carried out by the authorities. The ordinance was enacted by the president while the Senate was in session and the National Assemblys session had already been called for June 6. This was in direct contravention of the Constitution which does not permit any ordinance to be passed during a session of the Senate. It is the responsibility of the National Assembly to pass any such bill and the fact that it was pushed through while the Senate was sitting is an indication of the haste with which President Musharaff has become well known. It is reported that even the cabinet was not informed of this important, far reaching ordinance affecting the media before it was issued.
President Musharraf’s move to reign in the media is the result of their coverage of the protests against the suspension of the Chief Justice which threw his Government into a crisis. The Government recently instructed the electronic media not to cover the chief justice’s trial-related activities, including coverage of rallies, holding talk show and making commentaries. The ordinance is also a bid to curb criticism of the Army and the judiciary, which have been regularly debated on various electronic channels.
This is a war against the media, which has been directly felt by GEO, Aaj TV and ARY1 and E1. Both channels were blocked by the cable operators following pressure from the executive. President Musharraf’s tightening grip on the media is a sign that the Government is panicking and losing the support of the people.
Before the presidents attack on the independence of the judiciary the government had relied on a free media to build up his liberal image and popularity. But since the tide has turned against Musharraf he is trying to suppress the media through repressive laws.
The Asian Human Rights Commission expresses solidarity with the media houses and journalist who have had the courage to report the facts as they occur. It is now the turn of the international community to show its support for the people of Pakistan who are willing to stand up for their rights.