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PEMRA laws dangerous, US warns Pakistan

Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) gets extra powers from Musharraf; US supports media rights.


6 June, 2007:

The United States has warned Pakistan against using a new law aimed at restricting the freedom of the media. Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf had signed a decree on Monday giving the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) extra powers. Musharraf had severely criticised media coverage of his suspension on March 9 of Pakistan’s top judge, Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry.

United States State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said in Washington: “The Pakistani government is going to need to come to terms with new freedoms that are emerging in Pakistani society, concerning freedom of expression and the media as well. We absolutely support the growth of responsible media in Pakistan and how if this decree is used to actually shut down media that is something we are going to watch very closely.”

McCormack added that Pakistan should regard the role of the media as critical for it to function while pointing out that the media has the responsibility to report accurately and objectively.

The Pakistani government had issued several warnings to the media last week to halt live coverage of rallies by supporters of Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry.

Musharraf said last week that the media should not broadcast talk shows dealing with the issue of Chaudhry’s suspension on charges of misconduct.

Pakistan’s police have filed preliminary complaints against about 200 journalists for defying a ban on rally in Islamabad, the capital, to protest against curbs on the media.

Though no arrests have been made, the police’s move on Tuesday came a day after hundreds of journalists, lawyers, and opposition supporters rallied in Islamabad to protest against the imposition of a presidential decree that tightened the regulation of electronic media, including private television channels accused of anti-government bias.

In addition, over 60 opposition activists have been detained in Lahore and five other cities in Punjab province to prevent them joining the journalists’ protests.

The independent regulator Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority can now seal the premises or confiscate the equipment of television and radio channels, and suspend the licences of offenders.

Meanwhile, petitions have been filed in the Pakistan Supreme Court and two provincial courts challenging the sweeping curbs imposed by President Pervez Musharraf on the electronic media, terming them as a “mala fide act” aimed at demolishing the institution of media.

Zafarullah Khan, head of the human rights wing of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (N), filed a petition in the apex court contending that, in the backdrop of the judicial crisis sparked off by the suspension of the Chief Justice, the amendments introduced by the President were aimed at gagging the media and depriving the people of their right of freedom of speech and expression. The petitioner contended that the new amendments violate several articles of the Constitution.





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