Pakistan Assembly Urged to Reject Restrictive Amendments to Press Law
November 3, 2009
The proposed amendments to Pakistan’s press law would present a big step backward for media freedom in the country, Freedom House said today.
On October 29, members of the National Assembly's Standing Committee on Information and Broadcasting proposed amendments to the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) law. The clauses—which would outlaw the broadcasting of any language that is counter to the ideology of Pakistan or the sovereignty or security of the state; incites violence or hatred; or defames or ridicules the head of state, armed forces, or the executive, legislative or judicial branches of the state—passed unanimously and will now be presented to the full assembly for approval.
“It’s unacceptable for a democratic, civilian-led government to propose legislation that is essentially censorship,” said Jennifer Windsor, Freedom House’s executive director. “Pakistan’s broadcast media environment has bloomed in the past few years and we urge the Assembly to reject amendments to the press law that would move its legislation in the wrong direction.”
In the past decade, Pakistan has experienced a major expansion in private television broadcasting that has revolutionized the media environment. At least 25 all-news private cable and satellite television channels now operate, providing live domestic and international news coverage, commentary, and call-in talk shows, and giving diverse and occasionally critical viewpoints. During the past two years, these channels have played a key role in covering political developments such as the ongoing judicial crisis.
Concerns have grown surrounding irresponsible reporting, but successive governments have also been keen to clamp down on independent coverage of current events and have cut off access to certain news outlets during periods of unrest.
“It’s ironic that both domestically and on the international stage, Pakistan is determined to enact legal mechanisms to tackle issues that could be much better addressed in less restrictive ways,” said Karin Karlekar, editor of Freedom of the Press, Freedom House’s annual survey of media freedom.
At the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Pakistan is a lead sponsor of a proposal to establish a new legal standard that ban speech critical or “defamatory” of religions.
Pakistan is rated Not Free in Freedom of the Press 2009 and is ranked 136th out of 195 countries and territories worldwide. According to the report, journalists in Pakistan experience official attempts to restrict critical reporting as well as high levels of violence from both state and non-state actors. The constitution and other legislation authorize the government to curb freedom of speech on subjects that include the constitution itself, the armed forces, the judiciary, and religion. Harsh blasphemy laws have occasionally been used to suppress the media.
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Freedom House, an independent nongovernmental organization that supports the expansion of freedom in the world, has been monitoring political rights and civil liberties in Pakistan since 1972.
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