PAKISTAN: Prime Minister suspends PEMRA ordinance but the battle for media freedom is not yet won

The Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mr. Shoukat Aziz has suspended the implementation of the recently amended Pakistan Electronic Media Regularity Authority (PEMRA) Ordinance which was issued by President General Musharraf on June 4, 2007. The amended ordinance gave the Authority sweeping powers with which to seal the premises of, or confiscate the equipment of broadcasters and even suspend their licenses should they act in any manner contrary to the wishes of the government. There was also a sharp increase in the fine for transgressing the rules from Rs. one million to 10 million.

There was a tremendous outcry not only from the media but also the people of Pakistan and the Prime Minister has had the very good sense to recognise their displeasure. Now on putting the new ordinance on hold he has constituted a six-member committee to review amendments to the new ordinance. The committee consists of three persons from the media houses and three from the government.

Whilst the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) extends its congratulations to the journalists and lawyers, including organisations from civil society for their successful protests and demonstrations throughout the country against the curbs on the freedom of the media through the recently made amendments, the battle is not yet won.

The AHRC firmly believes that any discussion on the implementation and amendment of the ordinance would be more fruitful if it were to be withdrawn altogether. The committee may then sit down and discuss a realistic PEMRA law that will ensure freedom of the media. Any dialogue on the repressive ordinance will not serve the cause of freedom of the media in any way until the government withdraws the ordinance which was issued on June 4. Then a more meaningful dialogue with the organisations of media, including working journalists will be possible. A dialogue on freedom of the media through open discussions will benefit the government as well. The formation of PEMRA laws are themselves very controversial, so it would be more practical to have a discussion on freedom of the media and the necessity of ensuring this freedom and then have a discussion on the ordinance.

President General Musharaff must realise that the freedom of expression is guaranteed in the county’s Constitution and that by arbitrarily curtailing this freedom he is acting mala fides. Furthermore, as in the case of the suspended Chief Justice, President General Musharaff has once again arrogantly miscalculated the will and determination of the people of Pakistan. The people rose up against his suspension of the Chief Justice and they have done so once again in protest of the PEMRA ordinance.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AS-117-2007
Countries : Pakistan,