Govt. pressurizes the Dawn Group

The CEO of the Dawn Group has written an open letter to the Government, which is also copied below in case they take it down from their website. It is quite comprehensive and details the various methods the Govt. uses to make sure the media toes the party line. Though these days, despite all the desperate censorship measures the Govt. is taking, its not able to do much.

   

 

Dear Madam / Sir,

I am writing to draw your attention to an important matter that
indicates the rapidly worsening environment for the freedom of
press in Pakistan

It has always been difficult for governments to coexist with a
free and independent press in Pakistan. Of late, however, the
government headed by President Musharraf has become increasingly
intolerant towards criticism in the press and towards the publishing
of news that reflects poorly on the performance of his government on
security matters. 

One of the intended casualties of this swelling hostility between
government and press in Pakistan is the DAWN Group of Newspapers,
the country’s largest independent English language newspaper and
magazines publishing house

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. 

It is clear that objections to the propriety of the DAWN Group’s
editorial policies emanate mainly from President Musharraf’s office
and his stance is heavily influenced by key advisors who have been
entrusted with responsibility for implementing crisis management and
conflict control in flashpoint areas. 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.

While preparing this dossier, I have attempted to include details
and supporting documentation wherever possible, to facilitate your
assessment as a key practitioner in the press rights movement
internationally. Recent events in Pakistan indicate that attempts by
the government to curtail the autonomy of the judiciary have
been on the increase. This may have facilitated a temporary
unintended pause in the government’s relentless campaign to muzzle
the press. But such pauses presage a return to more coercive methods
by government against the press, once the messy business of the
executive – judicial
conflict is brought to a successful halt.

If you peruse the documents accompanying this letter, you will
find a chronology of events that cover the continuing conflict
between the DAWN Group and the Government of Pakistan in the
critical years 2004 to 2007. (Refer Appendix A 1.0)
and that reflects some of the main causes of the present breakdown
of communication between the government and the DAWN Group.

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 )

This attempt culminated with a complete ban on advertising
on DAWN Group newspapers and magazines by the Government of Sindh.
However, in response to a petition filed by DAWN’s lawyers, the
Sindh High Court ruled in DAWN’s favour
. The Sindh Government
sensing an impeding debacle withdrew the advertising ban in advance
of the Court’s final verdict.

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
)

In September 2006 when the government approached DAWN in its
attempt to seek a
news blackout regarding Baluchistan and
the troubled FATA agencies of North and South Wazirstan, the editor
of DAWN, Mr. Abbas Nasir, and the Directors of the Board of the DAWN
Group, concluded that the government’s ‘request’ was unreasonable
and needed to be firmly turned down. (Refer
Appendix A 2.2.2
September – December 2006)

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

The DAWN Group had somewhat anticipated events from the
increasingly strident tone of government criticism of its news
policies and from the subsequent escalation in unreasonable
informational demands from the government. As a precautionary
measure aimed at reducing large financial deficits, we were forced
to suspend the publication of our newspaper, the STAR, an important,
but financial deficit generating newspaper, which has existed for
over half a century and had been founded by working journalists
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 grant of television
broadcasting licences by the government towards such end is farmed
out to a government organisation – the Pakistan Electronic Media
Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) set up courtesy of an Ordinance passed
in 2002. The President of Pakistan had on three different occasions
in the last three years publicly announced that the controversial
cross-media ownership rule (illegally tagged onto the PEMRA
Ordinance
as a subsequent rule/regulation by the authority)
would be withdrawn and the large resource of talent available in the
print media would be allowed to participate in the burgeoning
electronic media revolution in Pakistan. Public opinion expressed
itself in the widely held conviction that with the entry of the
mainstream print media in the electronic media profession,
discriminatory attitudes and the repressive stance of PEMRA with
respect to press freedoms in the electronic media (Refer
Appendix B &

Appendix C) would be rolled back. However, the government’s
current position in the courts with respect to DAWN’s application
for a television broadcast licence . (Refer Appendix A 2.3.2)
has forced a rapid reassessment of public opinion with respect to
the bonafides of government intention and clearly demonstrates that
President Musharraf’s government is bent on pursuing a policy of
blatant cronyism vis a vis the inclusion of selected and preferred
print media houses in the electronic media revolution , and the
rejection of others considered as hostile or non-compliant to
government needs.

The government also appears determined to continue the domination
of all news content on TV channels and on FM radio through harsh and
repressive regulatory directives from PEMRA, evidenced in the grant
of temporary uplink permissions in place of valid broadcasting
licenses
to selected channels of PEMRA’s preference.

The recent spate of programmes banned on television by
PEMRA and a physical attack engineered by government on the offices
of a prominent TV news channel-cum-newspaper office, clearly
demonstrate the prevalence of government’s excesses in this matter.

In early December 2005 when the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mr
Shaukat Aziz summoned the undersigned to a meeting at Governor House
(Sindh) to announce the Sindh Government’s decision to withdraw its
advertising ban on the DAWN Group, he clearly informed me that the
government was keen that DAWN should go ahead and set up a TV
channel for the broadcast of English language news. The President’s
constant public declarations regarding the withdrawal of the
notoriously exclusionary cross-media ownership clause
in the
PEMRA rules and regulations and Parliament’s decision to finally
withdraw
this rule have not resulted in the licenses promised to
newspaper publishing houses outside of government favour- this
despite the passing of the legislation by both houses of Parliament
. Such permissions have only been granted arbitrarily to selected
groups by the government. This has led to a situation where we, at
DAWN, in anticipation of the government decision to implement the
new law have set up an entire organisation in Pakistan, employing
over 350 journalists, technicians and
managerial personnel
and are anxiously awaiting the promised government license, all the
while being forced to squander large financial outlays in
anticipation of this.

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.

Clearly the government would dearly like to see us lay off our
journalists as they are viewed as a potential source of unwelcome
criticism of government policies, rather than as compliant sheep to
be hurriedly shepherded by PEMRA according to government whim.

Our colleagues in organisations devoted to protecting the
freedom of the press
throughout the world have always been a
source of moral inspiration
and help to us in our struggle
for press freedoms in Pakistan
.

We therefore urge you to extend your help in this matter and
would appreciate if you address your concerns to the authorities in
Pakistan regarding the following areas:

1.      That
the advertising ban by the Federal Government on the DAWN
Group’s advertising is both unwarranted and unethical and a
transparent
mechanism to exert pressure on the newspaper
group’s policies in contravention of the internationally
accepted norms of
objective news reporting.

2.      That
the decision to withhold a television broadcast
license
to the DAWN Group by the government is in
violation of the judgments of the High Court of Sindh
and
the consent declarations made by PEMRA and the Federal Minister
of Information in the Sindh High Court. Such right should be
granted to other applying media groups as well on the same terms
.

3.      That
the Government of Pakistan continue to submit its policies in
Baluchistan
and its agreements with the pro Taliban
tribesmen of North & South Waziristan to the rigorous
assessment of public and media scrutiny.

4.      That
the Government of Pakistan desist from abducting and
arresting journalists
in the judicious performance of their
duties, and desist from physically attacking newspaper
offices
as has occurred last week in Islamabad.

 

Your concerns in this respect may be addressed to:

The President of Pakistan, General Pervez Musharraf,

The Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mr Shaukat Aziz,

The Acting Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan,
Justice Rana Bhagwandas,

The Federal Minister for Information Development, Government of
Pakistan, Mr Mohammed Ali Durrani.

In addition your concerns should also be expressed to other key
decision makers in the Government of Pakistan, urging all of them to
desist from repressive, illegal and unethical practices deployed in
their effort to subvert press freedoms.

For your ease of communication, I am including relevant fax
contact details:

General Pervez Musharraf, President of Pakistan ++9251-9221388

Mr Shaukat Aziz, Prime Minister of Pakistan ++9251-9212866

Justice Rana Bhagwandas, Acting Chief Justice of the Supreme
Court of Pakistan++9251-9213452

Mr Mohammed Ali Durrani, Federal Minister for Information
Development, Government of Pakistan ++9251- 9203740

Thank you in anticipation for your much needed support in this
matter.

Yours sincerely,

Hameed Haroon.

CEO & Publisher,

DAWN Group of Newspapers

Appendix A
Appendix B
Appendix C
Appendix D

 

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