Journalists have been arrested, printing presses raided and TV and radio news hauled off the air in the wake of anti-media sanctions in Pakistan.
This was the stark message from Owais Ali, the director general of the Pakistani Publishers’ Association, who said his members have vowed to fight sanctions imposed under General Musharraf’s emergency rule.
He spoke to Press Gazette after three Daily Telegraph journalists were ordered to leave the country.
Emergency rules threaten to punish any criticism of Musharraf, the government or members of the armed services with fines of up to 10 million rupees (£83,500) or three years in jail.
Ali said the country’s newspapers, such as Dawn and Daily Jang, remained independent and critical, but that TV and radio broadcasters, as well as online news outlets, are only publishing if they agree to a list of government-agreed rules.
He said: ‘Long-term, this is disastrous. Short-term, they have blocked out all the TV and radio channels and the parameters of what the media can say.
‘What is depressing is that journalism in Pakistan has struggled for 20 years, and another 20 years have allowed free, independent radio and TV stations. Musharraf has taken us back many years in one week.”
TV networks were slowly being allowed to broadcast again this week after a near-total blackout when emergency rule was first imposed. Sports and entertainment networks were this week widely available and smaller news networks, business channels and websites were coming back.
The main news channels, AJ, Geo News and ARY, were not broadcasting, but the BBC and American networks CNN, CNBC and Fox News were all available.
Ali said: ‘They are allowing [channels] back after they have received a compulsory list telling them what they can and can’t publishâ€¦Protests are going on pretty all the time. They are going on at the level of editors, journalists and proprietors and they are taking pretty strong action.”
Pakistani journalists staged a global day of action on last Thursday with thousands around the globe displaying their contempt for what they see as an illegal stoppage on their right to report, and Ali said there will be many more protests until media rights are reinstated.
‘The journalists haven’t given up, the media hasn’t given up, the newspapers remain critical. We have a long history of standing up.”
Isambard Wilkinson and Damien McElroy of the Daily Telegraph and Colin Freeman of the Sunday Telegraph were given 72 hours to leave the country this week and are all now back in the UK
Offence was caused by a leader article last Friday headed ‘Bankrupt relationship’which referred to Musharraf as a ‘sonofabitch’– in the eyes of the West – and accused him of failing to stamp out Pakistani extremism.
Imran Gardezi, minister for press at the Pakistan High Commission in London, demanded an apology from the newspaper. In a letter, published in Saturday’s Telegraph, he called the paper’s language ‘regrettable”. He wrote: ‘The language used of the president of Pakistan in your leading article is offensive and flouts the norms of decent journalism.”
The Foreign Office has lodged a formal complaint over their treatment.