Red, White and Black


Press Under Attack
27 March, 2007, 12:27 pm
Filed under: Pakistan, Politics

The country has witnessed a fortnight of political turmoil. It now seems that the government’s antics have not stopped and more foolishness is enroute. Adil Najam on ATP publishes a letter from Hameed Haroon, CEO and Publisher DAWN Group of Papers. The letter details various tactics that have been employed by the government in subverting the freedom of press in Pakistan. The accompanying appendices provide detailed and documented proof of the government’s arm-twisting. I am publishing excerpts from the letter here:

Since December 2006, the DAWN Group is facing massive advertising cuts equivalent to two thirds of total government advertising. This has occurred primarily as a consequence of a decision ostensibly taken by Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz’s government, but in reality ordered by General Musharraf and engineered by several of his advisors that constitute the government’s inner cabinet.

Particularly sensitive for the agreement are the escalating developments in Pakistan’s western province of Baluchistan, and in the tribal agencies of North & South Wazirstan on the Afghan border. Also irksome have been the DAWN Group’s related attempts to monitor a recurring tendency toward covert militancy among responsible decision-makers in government.

In the first phase, approximating with the years 2004 to 2005, the Government of Pakistan essentially worked by attempting to exert pressure on the Dawn Group by proxy – the proxy in this case being the Provincial Government of Sindh. It is in Sindh’southern metropolis of Karachi, that the headquarters of the DAWN Group of Newspapers are located.

This period first witnessed the government’s exerting of harsh pressures on our daily evening newspaper – The STAR – by attempting to intimidate and harass journalists with false cases and concocted charges, and by a failed attempt to implicate the writer of this letter, as CEO of the Group, in a totally fabricated incident of terrorism and illegal weapons possession. (Refer Appendix A 1.1.1, to, 1.1.4 and 2.1.2)

The second stage involved the direct exerting of pressure by the Federal Government itself. After a series of fumbling measures and half-hearted advertisement bans by the Federal Government with respect to DAWN in 2005, a turning point was reached when one of our influential current affairs magazines, the HERALD, published a series of controversial stories and articles from June 2005 onwards on topics such as the Pakistan Government’s war against Al-Qaeda and the Taliban in North and South Wazirstan; a possible resurgence of covert government support to Kashmiri militants; and also on the mushrooming policy debacle for government with respect to the Bugti insurgency in Baluchistan. (Refer Appendix A 1.2.1, to, 1.2.4 and 2.2.2)

As a consequence, the government imposed an almost comprehensive ban on Federal Government advertising. (Refer Appendix A 2.2.2t) with an intent to provoke the financial collapse of the DAWN Group.

Financial conditions within DAWN now became even more vulnerable to outside pressures as a consequence of our decision to commence work on a new TV channel – DAWN News.

The government’s refusal to give us a license mainly stems from our refusal to submit to its unethical pressures while reporting events in Baluchistan and North & South Waziristan. This refusal has become an acute cause of concern for the future financial viability of our publishing group.

Follow on the rest of the letter to the original post. Rather than just cribbing, I am more interested in figuring out how can we register our protests against this subversion of the press? More on that later, I guess.

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[…] talks about how the Pakistani administration infringes on the freedom of press. More details here and […]

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