Mazhar Abbas
Wednesday, April 30, 2014

“We will not surrender. We will win this battle too. We are ready to hear your verdict. Do what your masters must have told you to do,” said one of the four journalists before a Military Court officer sentenced them to nine months imprisonment and 10 lashes each on May 13, 1978.


These brave journalists were Nasir Zaidi, Iqbal Jaffery, Khawar Naeem Hashmi and Masoodullah Khan. On the same evening, the conviction was carried out at the Kot Lakpat jail. However, on doctor’s advice, Khan was spared, though he himself was ready.


The movement was for the restoration of the daily Masawaat, during which over 600 journalists, media workers and even peasants courted arrest.


Today, no one remembers the names of those who convicted them, but on May 13th every year, journalists pay tribute to all those who sacrificed during the struggle for people’s right to know.


Today, the crisis following the attack on senior journalist and top anchor of Geo, Mr Hamid Mir, has deepened and many have taken advantage of this situation. We not only have to respect our national institutions but also individuals, whether generals or journalists, or for that matter any honourable citizen of this country.


What happened in Islamabad the other day during the protest on “missing persons” reminds one of the days of martial law. It’s shameful … the manner in which Amna Masood Janjua was dragged by women police force. Had Hamid Mir been in Islamabad, he would have done a show on the event.


In HM’s case, I have already expressed my views about the editorial mishandling and I am glad that a legal course is adopted by the ISI, when it has moved an application to Pemra, through Ministry of Defense. Irrespective of the content of the application, a proper way was adopted.


But then why “instructions” to cable operators to off air GEO or put it on last numbers were issued. Why these rallies, because all such moves give wrong signals!


We all love our country. We all love our army and we all love our people. At the same time we all commit mistake and should regret, too. So, why not a “Million March” for Pakistan, in which all politicians, workers, journalists, owners, editors, teachers, students, and people from different walks of life should participate and put their hands together, raising slogan “Pakistan Zindabad”.


As for legal course, let a full Pemra body be constituted and decide the matter. We should also wait for the outcome of the high profile Inquiry Commission, comprising three honourable judges of the Supreme Court.


I also support the appeal made by the president of All Pakistan Newspapers Socity (APNS),Mr Hameed Haroon, for restrain and appeal to the government to invite all the media stakeholders to resolve the crisis.


But, if you want to shut down any channel, declare someone traitor, than there is a problem as in that case you have to start from the person already facing this charge and many more.


From Safety of Pakistan Act to Pemra, no black law could block the journey for freedom of the press, but in the process journalists suffered a lot and some good newspapers were either closed or lost its independence because of government control.


From August 14, 1947 till this day, the establishment had never accepted “free media” with an open heart. Those, who gave credit to Musharraf for giving freedom should also go through the events from 2001 to 2004 and see how the up-linking facilities were not allowed till the civilian government under Musharraf took a position. But, when he banned the media on November 3rd, he did not take them into confidence.


In the early days after Independence, the bureaucracy even tried to censor the speeches of the founder of Pakistan, Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah. They used all anti-press laws in Pakistan from 1948, banned newspapers, put journalists, editors in prison but in the end this small community called “journalists”, who today, are in thousands, succeeded despite many problems.


From Field Martial Law Ayub Khan to Gen Yahya, from Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto to General Ziaul Haq, from Nawaz Sharif to Benazir Bhutto, from visible forces to invisible forces, from state to non-state actors, all tried to silence the media, but failed.


Yes, we had lost over 100 journalists, who were killed in the line of duty. Yes, the media workers have not been given their due rights and proper wages, but our commitment is with our people. Yes, we do not have leaders like MA Shakoor, Nisar Usmani, Minhaj Barna, KG Mustafa, IH Rashid, Hafeez Raquib, Khalid Alig, SGM Badaruddin, but we still have a team of their “shagrid,” which includes Hamid Mir.


Retired General Pervez Musharraf also thought we may not be able to resist the ban, because of commercial interest. He also hit financial interests but failed. Today, Musharraf is facing charges of high treason under Article VI, of the Constitution.


Some 200 journalists in Karachi courted arrest against the arrest of four of their colleagues; cases were registered against 300 journalists for leading the procession to the Prime Minister’s House on November 7, 2007. A sedition case against PFUJ was registered. Establishment tried to divide the movement and it took us 88 days of non stop “sit in” to get channels back on air.


Hamid Mir, Talat Hussain, Kashif Abbasi, Asma Sherazi and other hosts did their shows on the street in different parts of the country, as part of our campaign.


The recent history was just a reminder for those who today think that they could ban Geo, Pakistan’s biggest news channel and everyone would accept the ban. No sir, you are wrong. We will not accept any move to curb freedom of the press, whether against Geo or any other media group.


So, if you want to test us again, please go ahead. I know nothing will come out in the investigation in Hamid Mir’s case because nothing has ever come out in high profile cases or inquires. Yes, we are weak and divided. We have internal rivalries and professional jealousies too. But, we have one bad habit. When someone attack us, we forget our differences and those who don’t join such movements often regret.


My only appeal to our friends would be – today, it is Geo, tomorrow it can be you and I said same to Geo, too, in the past.


Yes, channels do commit mistakes, at times blunders. Everyone has a right to take a legal course but no one has a right to “off air” any channel or disturb distribution of newspapers. Who is doing all this in the last one week? Please, don’t support it, because today, it is Geo, tomorrow it can be another channel. Such moves will not help you but on the contrary it would damage you. Although, we don’t learn lesson from history but there is nothing wrong in going through the pages of history and struggle for the “freedom of the press”. Those, who joined this profession… from nowhere, must read four books of late Zameer Niazi on the press.


Pemra is not a body to “regulate”, it is a body to suppress the free media. Even its members in Council of Complaints, which is supposed to recommend the action often has been told about the action after the action been taken. Once a member of the council quit on the ground that Pemra rules were not followed by the Pemra officials.


If the channels belonging to Geo Group were off aired in the “national interest”, were the Indian entertainment channels allowed in the “national interest,” too. This is not just an expression but in 2007, when the government decided to ban all channels, Pervez Musharraf was advised not to off air “Indian channels”, otherwise the people would join lawyers and media movement.


Military dictator Gen Zia ul Haq also allowed smuggling of Indian films and VCR culture to keep the people away from political movement against his government.


I am not concerned with what some of these “relevant quarters” are up to. I am worried whether we really have a civilian authority in this country. Who is pressurising the cable operators to put Geo off air or shift it to 80 or 85 number? who is not allowing the distribution of Jang and The News in different part of the country?


I wondered what must be going on in the minds of people like Khawaja Mohammad Asif, Khwaja Saad Rafiq, Pervez Rasheed, and Mushahidullah Khan.


Where will PML (N) government would stand, if Geo is banned? The decision of the Council of Pakistan Newspapers Editors (CPNEC) must be welcome by all. I only hope that CPNE should take one step forward and call the meeting of all the media stakeholders.


There is a need for a joint “code of ethics” of APNS, CPNEC, PBA and PFUJ. It’s not very difficult. They just need to draw mechanism for the implementation. They must agree on Media Complaints Commission. PFUJ had proposed one in 2008, which is still very much relevant. Revive the institution of editor, both in print and in TV. Professional journalists can handle the situation professionally and give respect to their editorial judgment. National Training Institution for Safety of Journalists should be formed.


I also appeal to Geo and Jang Group management, to protect their workers and dispel all speculations about terminating many. It is these workers who fought for you in the past too when a civilian government tried to suppress your organisation. It is these workers who fought shoulder to shoulder against Musharraf. If you make them strong, look after their welfare, they would be in the forefront of this struggle.


Journalists must unite, not for Geo or any other channel, but for journalism and freedom of the press as well as responsible media.


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