Sunday, September 11, 2011

Media is Under Siege in Pakistan (Khamosh Raho)!

“Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.” – Albert Einstein - “Everything you see or hear or experience in any way at all is specific to you. You create a universe by perceiving it, so everything in the universe you perceive is specific to you.” – Douglas Adams - Take a minute to scan your surroundings. Are you in a familiar place or somewhere new? Stop reading this, and just look around you. Pick out an object, maybe something you hadn’t noticed before, and focus your attention on it. If you really focus, it’ll get brighter and more “real” than it was when it was just an unnoticed piece of the background noise of your life. Now, try to view your surroundings from the point of the object. Some people can do this with no effort, and for others, it takes some concentration. Depending on how adept you are at focusing your concentration, you may notice a slight shift in your perception – a weird jump in realty, where you are suddenly viewing the world from a different perspective. Did it work? Whether you noticed anything or not, your perception did change, albeit for an instant. It’s important to be conscious of your perception, because if you’re not, someone else will create it for you.REFERENCE: Your Perception IS Your Reality October 31 by Tony D. Clark 

Zamir Niazi’s second major book was the Press Under Siege (1992). This book dealt with the violent post-Zia years up to 1991. These were the years of the rise of the MQM in Karachi and hardly anyone dared to report, much less criticize, the violence of the MQM against the press. Zamir Niazi, despite his support of the ordinary people of Karachi and some of the issues the MQM dwelt upon, did not hesitate to write against the high handed tactics of the MQM workers just as he reported such events elsewhere. The book ended with a moving appeal to the civil society to value the press. He wrote:

... we all have to stand up today against the twin menace of state restrictions and street barbarism. Perhaps it will be our last chance to do so. Perhaps tomorrow it will be too late. Perhaps tomorrow will never come. What ominous words but how moving—and how true! REFERENCE: Farewell to Zamir Niazi Dr. Tariq Rahman

Why Nusrat Javed has been sacked from Aaj TV? - 1 (Bolta Pakistan 9 Sept 2011)


DUBAI: MQM leader Altaf Hussain on Friday night twice threatened, although in very guarded and reluctant tone to unleash his followers if his party was pushed to the wall. What he meant by this was not explained and left to the imagination of listeners and viewers. But while threatening to let loose his forces against unknown and unnamed enemies, Altaf Hussain also twice offered full support and cooperation specifically to the Pakistan Army and the ISI to counter the various conspiracies that he thought were being hatched against Pakistan. At one stage he said if army and ISI joined hands with him: “We could even defeat the super powers.” This threat from the UK and US was always in the back of his mind as his continuous effort was to arouse and emotionally excite and activate his followers by referring to his death or murder, or disappearance from the scene. Why suddenly the MQM leader has become so worried about his life has not been explained and his three hours of live TV also did not throw much light on this specific aspect but analysts believe what could be bothering him may be the fast forwarded investigation into the murder of Dr Imran Farooq and the reported arrests of two suspected killers who have allegedly confessed their links to the MQM and may lead the Scotland Yard to the MQM head office in London, whether on the Edgeware Road or Colindale address. The drama and the casual, informal address to his workers, which was deliberately couched as a news conference to get maximum TV time, which it got, hardly addressed any core issue confronting Karachi and Pakistan as on most of these main questions Altaf Hussain either remained evasive or did not respond at all. He did not answer any charge raised by PPP leader Zulfikar Mirza saying he would not respond to that mad man, he did not touch the issue of his highly controversial remarks about breaking up Pakistan in front of Pir Mazhar and Mr Mirza, he ignored the Tony Blair letter totally, he did not deny that his party indulged in target killings, he refused to accept that not just his party but others also had a stake in peace of Karachi. But the most pathetic part of his address was his explanation and defence of the May 12 events which left his viewers and the nation reeling as May 12 is so fresh in everyone’s mind and what MQM did that day could never be denied in the manner Altaf Hussain did. His explanations only lowered his credibility. There is no question that MQM was totally incharge of all Home Ministry on May 12 and the MQM leader Wasim Akhtar was seen in numerous TV interviews claiming to be incharge and controlling the situation. The way containers, which were under control of another MQM minister Babar Ghauri, were used on that day cannot be brushed away by such belated and unbelievable explanations. How the Sindh High Court was besieged is for lawyers to elaborate. On May 12, I was also in Karachi and heading an important TV channel and I know personally how MQM tried its best to plant tailor-made video clips in our transmissions to prove that PPP and other parties were involved in the killings that were going on in Karachi. On that day I tried to present a balanced picture of the day’s events as head of the TV channel and when I showed a zoomed-out full view of the public meeting of Mr Altaf Hussain, within 3 minutes London started calling my channel bosses and shouted abuses because the wide empty spaces in the crowds had been exposed by the TV shots. It was not surprising then that within two days the Mohajir Rabita Council, a MQM dominated body of Karachi, issued a hit list of 10 journalists who they claimed were “haters” of MQM and my name was also included in that list. Altaf Hussain conveniently left the doors of an alliance and cooperation with PPP open in his press conference and repeatedly called President Asif Ali Zardari his brother while he made a preposterous claim that US had paid millions of dollars to Asfandyar Wali Khan of ANP and Nawaz Sharif’s party had big arsenals of weapons. He never presented any evidence to substantiate both these charges. Twice he said that MQM was prepared to join hands with PPP “for peace in Karachi” but he did not go into details of the long-winded negotiations, which are on-going between their teams in Karachi, Islamabad and London. The obvious message was that MQM wanted quickly to get back into power as the heat outside the power corridors was getting too hot to handle. The MQM leader’s long and comical thesis that Pakistan was under attack and threatened with a break up by quoting an odd book, some research writers and a couple of newspaper reports was probably the weakest part of his harangue as he could not convince anyone who even has a modicum of intelligence and knowledge about these theories. Such articles have been published ever since the country was created and Altaf Hussain needed much more solid evidence if he went public with this charge. Finally he appeared to be a man in the middle of a serious crisis, threatened by the acts of omission and commission that were catching up with his party, and may be personally against him, and the three-hour press outing was an attempt to justify whatever may be coming towards him as a runaway train, without brakes. REFERENCE: Altaf, a man in the eye of multiple storms Shaheen Sehbai Saturday, September 10, 2011 

Why Nusrat Javed has been sacked from Aaj TV? - 2  (Capital Talk Special - 9th Sept 2011)  


May 30 (Reuters) - Three Pakistani journalists working for foreign news organisations in Karachi found bullets placed in their cars in what a local media body described on Wednesday as an attempt to intimidate the press into silence. "It is very threatening. This is a serious issue. It is an attempt to gag the press, but we will not compromise on our objectivity," Mazhar Abbas, secretary-general of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists, told Reuters. Karachi has been tense since May 12, when nearly 40 people were killed in clashes between rival political groups, that disrupted a visit to the city by suspended chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry. Chaudhry is at the centre of a crisis that has gripped Pakistan since President Pervez Musharraf tried to sack him in March. Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), the party controlling Pakistan's biggest city and an ally of Musharraf's and member of the coalition, has denied accusations that its workers played a big part in the Karachi bloodshed. Last week, a shadowy group associated with MQM issued a list of a dozen journalists, terming them "enemies". Two of the journalists who received bullets were on the list. An envelope containing a bullet was taped to the windscreens of vehicles belonging two journalists, while a similar envelope was thrown inside the car of a third late on Tuesday. Karachi police chief Azhar Farooqi said investigations were underway. Pakistani media has flourished and many new television channels have opened up since Musharraf seized power in a bloodless military coup 7-½ years ago. However, media groups say there has been a growing pressure on the media since the judicial crisis erupted. Television stations have been attacked and journalists have been threatened for covering countrywide protests by lawyers and opposition groups. "Threats against journalists are mounting in Pakistan and the government must take immediate steps not only to protect journalists, but to actively seek out and bring to justice those who would harm them," Bob Dietz, the Committee to Protect Journalists Asia programme coordinator, said in a statement last week. MQM denounced threats to journalists, though the list was circulated by Mohajir Rabita Council, a group linked to the party representing Urdu speakers who migrated to Pakistan from northern India during partition of the Sub-Continent 60 years ago. "These threats are aimed at creating a rift between journalists and MQM," Farooq Sattar, parliamentary leader of MQM, told Reuters. REFERENCE: Pakistani journalists receive bullets threat Wed May 30, 2007 4:23am EDT PAKISTAN: IFJ enraged by MRC's threat to journalists Council releases a list of journalists deemed subversive to society Dawn Friday, May 25, 2007

(PPF/IFEX) - The Mohajir Rabita Council (MRC), an ethnic political group in Pakistan's southern province of Sindh, has issued a list of twelve Pakistani journalists it denounced as being "chauvinists", and criticized their alleged role in the violence during protest rallies held in Karachi on 12 May 2007, during the visit of the suspended Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftekhar Mohammed Chaudhary to the city. The MRC is considered to be closely associated with the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), the party allied to President Pervez Musharraf and the main coalition partner in the Sindh provincial government. In a press statement, the vice-president and secretary general of MRC said the organization had established a special unit to inform the new generation about their "enemies". The statement also condemned certain television programmes and accused them of "playing a dangerous game to destroy Pakistan by igniting linguistic prejudices." The names of the journalists on the list include: Zafar Abbas of the daily newspaper "Dawn"; Azhar Abbas of Dawn TV; Mazhar Abbas of AFP; Ayaz Amir, a "Dawn" columnist; Sajjad Mir of TV One; Irfan Siddiqui of daily "Nawa-e-Waqt"; Dr. Shahid Masood of Geo TV; Aneeq Ahmed of ARY TV; Asfar Imam of Aaj TV; Zahid Hussain of Geo TV; Shaheen Sehbai of ARY TV; and Zarar Khan of AP. Also included in the list was Iqbal Haider, secretary general of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP). A press release issued by the Karachi Union of Journalists (KUJ) expressed concern at the MRC statement, which it described as a serious threat to free media and an attempt to gag the press. The KUJ said the MRC and MQM will be held responsible if any harm came to the journalists whose names have been mentioned in the MRC statement. KUJ demanded the government take serious notice of what it termed as an attack on the media. A press release issued by Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) expressed great concern at the "issuance of such a hit list", which it deems a direct threat to media independence. REFERENCE: Alert Ethnic political group allied with ruling party releases journalist "hit list" 24 May 2007 Source: Pakistan Press Foundation Press Centre Shahrah Kamal Ataturk Karachi 74200 Pakistan ppf (@) Phone: +92 21 263 3215 Fax: +92 21 221 7069 PAKISTAN: IFJ enraged by MRC's threat to journalists Council releases a list of journalists deemed subversive to society Dawn Friday, May 25, 2007

ISLAMABAD — A letter likely to point to the murderers of former Sindh governor Hakim Said has been reportedly recovered by Scotland Yard from the house of slain Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) leader Dr Imran Farooq. Earlier, several MQM workers, allegedly involved in Said’s murder on October 17, 1998, were arrested and subsequently sentenced to death by an anti-terrorism court. However, on May 31, 2001, the Sindh High Court acquitted all the accused in the case for failure of the prosecution to produce terrified witnesses. The letter, said to have been written to Dr Farooq by one Javed Turk, is part of a number of documents impounded from the MQM leader’s house as part of the ongoing investigation into his murder. Said, who established Hamdard Foundation in 1948, was a well known scholar and philanthropist. After his murder, the then prime minister Nawaz Sharif dismissed the province government of his party and imposed governor’s rule in the province. Translated documents, recovered from Farooq’s house, are helping Scotland Yard to zero-in on suspects in Farooq’s murder case, sources said. Scotland Yard has recently questioned an activist of the MQM. Former Sindh senior minister Dr Zulfiqar Mirza has accused the MQM of assassinating Hakim Said and Imran Farooq saying the orders came from MQM chief Altaf Hussain. The MQM has rejected the allegation as absurd. Knowledgeable sources have claimed that the MQM UK chapter has taken strong exception to the direction the murder case probe has taken and has even reportedly protested to the UK government. Altaf Hussain last month accused Pakistan’s intelligence agencies of feeding poisonous material to London police against him and his party. Altaf has been out of public view for past about a fortnight amid reports that London police had stopped him from escaping to South Africa citing security reasons. The British High Commissioner in Islamabad has, however, refuted reports that Altaf is under house arrest. In a belated clarification, the MQM said he has been unwell for past two weeks and has recovered fast. REFERENCE: UK police stumble on clues to Hakim Said’s murder 5 September 2011

Zamir in Urdu means "conscience", and since his hook Press in Chains (Karachi Press Club, 1986) came out, Zamir Niazi has been the voice of conscience of the Pakistani press, its society and government. Press in Chains is a detailed history of government control and coercion of the press in Pakistan since 1947, and is distinguished by its thorough documentation—no incident was cited without attribution, a feature which is lacking in much of the history written in Pakistan. The book became an immediate bestseller and went into many reprints, both in Pakistan and India. Niazi followed his pioneering work with two more: The Press Under Siege, a look at the violence against and intimidation of the press from non-government sources, and The Web of Censorship, which exposed the culture of self-censorship in the press. Now 67 and stricken with cancer, Niazi remains very much a fighter for press freedom, and is preparing his fourth book. Himal caught up with the author in his Karachi home, against the backdrop of the very public row between the Sharif government and the Jang Group of Newspapers. (See Commentary page 8)

• How do you view this ongoing tussle between the government and the Jang Group?

Jang has always been a loyal follower of each and every government. It has been a very docile institution. Us circulation in various cities is more than the combined circulation of all the other papers. From the beginning, its founder and father, Mir Khalilur Rehman, who single-handedly made the paper into an institution and became an institution himself in his own life, knew how to run a business. Some 15 years back, in an interview, the Far Eastern Economic Review had asked him what his paper's policy was. He replied, our policy is to have no policy. He meant: We are with everybody, we don't believe in criticism or an adversarial role, we just do what the government and the people want. After his death, his very able sons have faithfully carried out this policy.

The present battle between Jang and the government has been going on for the last seven months. At first we thought it was a superficial fight. But then I read about the Jang Group Editor-in-Chief Mir Shakils press conference [in which he released tapes of his conversations with government officials including Senator Saifur Rehman] and I was shaken. The senator asks Mir Sahib to dismiss journalists, not to write anything against the prime minister, to support the Shariah Bill. On BBC, the senator admitted this in so many words and criticised Mir Shakil for taping the conversations. I think he [Shakil] did the best thing. This was the only proof. He was pushed to the wall. What else could he have done?

• So you think that whatever Mir Shakil did was justified?

Yes! He did great service not only to Jang but to the entire profession. Today the government is pressurizing Jang and if Jang surrenders, tomorrow they will pressurise Dawn. Then Nawai Waqt. We have to fight this thing. This is not a fight between Shakil and Saifur Rehman. This is a fight between the press and the government.

• There have always been government attempts to influence or control the press. How do you compare past attempts with this one?

This time the attempts have become ruthless. They've forgotten all norms of decency. The government wants to turn Jang into a Pravda.

• The South Asian press has frequently been accused of adventurism. Governments have blamed the press for going beyond the call of constructive criticism. There are such allegations against Jang now.

Where will you draw the line? Who is going to draw the line? I've been in the profession since 1954. Each government says the same, "We welcome constructive criticism." Who decides what is constructive criticism?

I'll give you examples of limits in different periods. After the imposition of the first martial law, during Ayub Khan's period, criticism of the defence forces was out. In the same period, after [Zulfikar Ali] Bhutto became the foreign minister, you couldn't write anything on foreign affairs. In Bhutto's era, the limits changed—if somebody was Bhutto's friend, you couldn't criticise him. In Zia-ul Haq's period it was something more. Because of the long period of dictatorship, every small guy in his institution became a dictator. Then you couldn't even write about the railways or the PIA or the civic bodies such as the Karachi Municipal Corporation or the Karachi Development Authority. So who is going to define the limits?

• How do you compare press freedoms in Pakistan with that in other countries of the region?

In the entire SAARC region, the press is free in India only. Sri Lanka and Bangladesh are the same as Pakistan. In India, except for the 17 months' Emergency during Indira Gandhi's rule, the press remained free. But our press has remained in chains for 40 years. Despite that, Kuldip Nayyar told me that the Pakistani press is bolder than India's, because we people have learnt the art of saying things between the lines.

For example, April 4th, the day Bhutto was hanged in 1979, is also the day that Martin Luther Kingjr was assassinated in 1968. On the first anniversary of Mr Bhuttos execution [because we could not write on him], we wrote articles paying tributes to Martin Luther King. An influential member of the Ministry of Information told me, "We know that you are telling people, today is the death anniversary of Bhutto, we know it."

Our press has been ruthlessly suppressed in our short history of 50 years. And look at what is happening even now. This is a so-called democratic era and the man [Nawaz Sharif] who claims every week to have a heavy mandate', look at what he is doing to the press.

• Did this tradition of muzzling the press start very early on in Pakistan's history?

I have mentioned it in detail in my first book. Three days before Pakistan came into being, on August 11th 1947, Jinnah made his first speech. In that speech he explained the secular nature of the polity of the new nation. Some people, with the backing of some bureaucrats, tried to censor that portion of the speech. So this thing started right from the word go.

• The press attempts to evade governmental influence by seeking revenue from the private sector. If it faces censorship from that sector as well, what can a newspaper do to survive?

It's a walk on a razor's edge. There are journalists who are trying to fight both forms of censorship. But one must remember that for a good cause you will always find only a minority. The redeeming thing, however, is that this minority ultimately triumphs. It takes time but it does happen. One should always dream. Dreams should not die. Your dreams are your identity. So many Utopias have proved to be nightmares. But there is still a Utopia.

• You have written about government attempts to curb press freedom and of other forces within society which intimidate the press. Which of these is more sinister?

Some six months back I thought the darkest period for the press was Zia's martial law, and that perhaps even more dangerous was when he lifted censorship and we fell into selfcensorship. That destroyed our faculties. But seeing what has been happening over the last week or so, I am in much pain. I used to say that now the worst is over. But I think I was wrong. Something terrible is happening. We have to stand united. Every citizen must stand up for their rights. It is our right to know. You, can't take that away. REFERENCE: Interview Zamir Niazi March 1998 By Hasan Zaidi

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