31 May, 2018 / By The Nation
Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi Wednesday said the PML-N government is proud not to have used censorship or the secret funds to control news content as it fully believes in the freedom of press.
Addressing the 28th Award ceremony of the All Pakistan Newspapers Association (APNS) here at the PM Office, he also asked the media to have a self-regulatory mechanism to ensure greater objectivity and impartiality in news content.
APNS President Hamid Haroon in his remarks appreciated the prime minister for putting the country back on right track at a time when it was facing numerous challenges on different fronts.
But he alleged that the media freedom was under a vicious attack from certain ‘state institutions’ that were trying to control and muzzle it through coercion.
Prime Minister Abbasi in his address said there was no scope of any censorship in a modern world. He said the step may bring temporary benefits to a media bully but such measures never served the national interest of a country.
“We [PML-N government] are proud to state that we never resorted to any such acts, despite the serious challenges that we confronted,” he said, and added that a free and fair media was vital for any democracy.
The prime minister said his government was also proud of the fact that it did not use the “secret fund” of the Intelligence Bureau for media manipulation as it believes that the right to free expression needs to be fulfilled.
He said in the past billions of rupees were doled out from the secret fund, however the PML-N government from day one remained committed to not influencing the media for its own benefit either through carrot or stick.
“Our government always tried to maintain the freedom of expression at all costs,” he maintained. Abbasi said his government successfully managed to maintain objectivity in news and did not link it up to the government advertisements.
At the same time, he said, it is government’s desire that more objective and positive reporting is done about Pakistan. He said successful completion of the development projects needs to be highlighted so as to have a feel good factor for the masses.
The prime minister said like the reforms in all sectors, there was also a need to bring about changes in the news industry as well and called for adopting a self-regulatory mechanism, particularly when there was no history of claiming any damages due to the defamation caused.
He said there was a need for putting in place a system which equally accommodates contradictions of baseless news and allegations levelled against anyone.
Abbasi said the Pakistan of 2018 was totally different from the one his government inherited in 2013 and said the country has achieved significant success in all areas.
He reiterated that due acknowledgment of the accomplishments of the government, particularly in boosting the country’s GDP, enhancing investment climate, electricity and gas production, besides tackling terrorism, need to be given.
Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi later distributed awards in different categories.
Earlier, APNS President Hamid Haroon in his speech appreciated the prime minister’s efforts for bringing positive changes on the national front.
He was also appreciative of the government for its support to the freedom of expression as enshrined in the constitution of the country.
But Haroon set alarm bells ringing by saying that some state institutions were trying to force their agenda by arm-twisting distributors, hawkers and agents as well as cable operators.
He said he believed that they were in “the process of orchestrating a state of intolerance in Pakistan today, a condition which is inimical to the very survival of a free press and to freedom of expression.”
“Over the past few years, we are encountering the most dangerous attacks on Article 19 of the Constitution,” he said, clarifying that the attacks were not being carried out by the government.
“Article 19 says that there shall be freedom of press subject to reasonable restrictions,” Mr Haroon said, adding: “And we know what those reasonable restrictions are.”
“Unfortunately, the modern state is a complex of many institutions. We find these attacks on press freedom neither silent nor modest, but blatant attacks on freedom of expression. We find that the state institutions are not showing restraint and respect for the constitution,” he said.
Mr Haroon said once he had told Gen Musharraf that if “in the war on terror, you destroy the institutions of democracy”, there would be no future of democracy after the war.
It was disturbing to see rules being broken with impunity and distributors, hawkers and agents and cable operators being “harassed and coerced across the country by the state institutions”, he said.
“If we destroy this spirit of pluralism and do not protect freedom of expression, we not only violate our constitution, but also face a bleak future ahead of us,” he said, urging the state institutions to play a positive role, refrain from putting obstacles to a free press and let the political process go forward.