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Musharraf lets Press have its way .

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    Musharraf lets Press have its way .

    - It seems that the press in Pakistan has never been freer in Pakistani history as it is now, and this under a military dictator! - hopefully it will last and confound the cynics. This article in an Indian newspaper backs it up...

    Musharraf lets Press have its way but scribes feel it won’t last

    Chief Executive of Pakistan General Pervez Musharraf has left the media entirely free of control. This has reinforced his image as a liberal and a General with a difference although the mounting criticism in the newspapers is clearly upsetting the establishment.
    General Musharraf told this correspondent in Islamabad, with a certain degree of pride, that yes, the Press is entirely free and he has no intention of putting any curbs on the media.Asked if the criticism hurt him he replied, “yes sometimes, particularly when it is baseless. I try to ignore it but she (gesturing towards his wife) gets very upset.”

    Musharraf’s wife intervenes immediately to say, “of course I get upset. The consequences of these baseless reports will affect my children and grandchildren. They are completely innocent.”Information Minister Javed Jabbar, who is seen as a fairly influential figure in the establishment ( General Musharraf calls him “JJ”), wants a code of ethics.

    He is keen to institutionalise the Press in Pakistan and is of the view that a self-imposed code of ethics is an important first step. He is openly critical of sections of the media and does not take as kindly as General Musharraf to criticism.

    At the same time, he is happy to declare that the military government has supported a free Press in “both word and deed.”It has reduced the import duty on newsprint, it hopes to minimise government intervention in advertising, it has recommended a Senate wage board for working journalists and is for the setting up of an independent broadcasting authority.

    Journalists admit that there is complete freedom at the moment. But most are apprehensive about “how long will this last.” The Pakistan Press is not used to freedom under a military regime and expect this to be taken away when, to quote a Lahore scribe, the “going gets too rough for our General.”

    There is some speculation about why General Musharraf has allowed the Press to remain free. Particularly in the face of mounting criticism with many well-known columnists taking the military regime to task for acts of omission and commission. In the absence of any concrete reason, at least two journalists claimed that “he is under pressure from the US.

    If he takes any steps against the Press, he will come under direct attack from the State Department which regularly monitors the situation here.” Others do not share this view, insisting that freedom is the result of a military decision to prove that theirs is a rule with a difference.

    The men in uniform, of course, now have to get used to being treated to the criticism reserved for politicians with newspapers like the Dawn taking the lead in this. For the present, however, the scribes are revelling in their freedom which, all fear, might be shortlived.

    A mammoth South Asian editors conference organised by the News (Jang group) is perceived here as a major media exercise by the military regime. It is an accepted fact that the Musharraf government used the News as a front for inviting at least 70 senior scribes from India. Bangladesh, Lanka and Nepal. Of these, at least 40 were from India.

    The two day intensive deliberations turned into a India-Pakistan forum of debate, with the occasion being used finally by Musharraf to make a passionate plea for a dialogue with India. Musharraf has these direct, no nonsense , transparent encounters with the media that have left the Pakistan press confused.

    Journalists are opposed to military rule and the cynics, the Pakistan media has a surfeit of these, are waiting for the General to turn. It is inevitable, is the consensus as the media is not used to military rule without shackles.

    Journalists, interestingly, are very keen on a India-Pakistan dialogue. In fact, almost all senior journalists wanted to know why Delhi was avoiding talks. Even the critics of military rule wanted a dialogue, “you have talked to military dictators in the past, and now with nuclear weapons on both sides, it is even more important to engage in dialogue.”

    A woman journalist was upset about the attitude of the visiting Indian scribes, “some of you have come with closed minds and are going away with closed minds. You have refused to absorb anything.”

    [This message has been edited by Malik73 (edited July 08, 2000).]