Participants at a national conference raise their voice in support of the democratic process
By Waqar Gillani
Media and civil society of Pakistan once again came together to show their commitment for setting a new agenda for continuity of democratic process and bringing peace and prosperity in the country through long term people-centric policies.
Media professionals from across the country met at South Asian Free Media Association's (SAFMA's) National Conference at Islamabad last week. They resolved to safeguard the democratic and constitutional set-up, which envisages the freedom of expression and an independent judiciary.
Journalists, politicians, and civil society activists resolved to respecting the will of the people and rejecting conspiracies aimed at creating political chaos and bringing undemocratic and unconstitutional changes.
The interesting part of the conference was criticism of the media by members of media. They called for a self mechanism for media accountability and demanded the owners and the state to evolve a transparent and accountable system to run the growing media industry to stop all types of exploitation.
SAFMA, along with leading journalists, intellectuals and civil society leaders, from the platform of Citizens for Democracy, called upon all the institutions and stakeholders to say no to any undemocratic and unconstitutional change while emphasizing the urgency to evolve a national agenda to tackle the crises being faced of the state.
Asma Jahangir, leading human rights activist and the newly-elected president of Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA), stressed on the need for people-centric agenda and policies. She gave eight points to set the new agenda that include: a pluralistic and democratic society where civilian control should prevail; realisation that there is no prosperity without peace, and improved good governance at all levels including judiciary, government, executive, and political parties.
Khaled Ahmad, prominent journalist and analyst, demanded for removing the contradictions and double standards from within the foreign policy to make the country able to get rid of terrorism and improve its economy and image at the global level. "Currently, Pakistan seems to be isolated and without any friends on the globe because of its India and military-centric foreign policy where the civilians have no role." He condemned the attacks and torture on journalists and exploitation of media organisations when they expose double standards.
The conference showed concern about institutional, financial, and societal crises in a terrorism-ridden country reeling under the unprecedented havoc caused by floods. It showed alarm at the political uncertainty, reinforcing hopelessness and chaos, due to an ongoing power-struggle among various institutions of the state. The conference took serious exception to any moves aimed at bringing undemocratic and unconstitutional changes and overstepping institutions of the state.
The speakers expressed dismay at the deteriorating quality of governance at various institutions of the state. They highlighted the inconsistency of policies in eradicating terrorism and the insistence on keeping sanctuaries of terrorism as so-called "strategic assets".
Participants of the conference raised their voice against the alienation, deprivation and sufferings of the Baloch people. They also empathised with the common man over rising inflation and hardships being faced by them, especially those affected by floods and terrorism. The participants showed their disappointment over the absence of new media laws, including laws on information, electronic media and Press Council Law.
Media professionals taking part in the conference also condemned killings, torture and victimization of working journalists by various state and non-state actors, non-implementation of the Seventh Wage Board Award, and lack of protection and insurance coverage for journalists reporting from conflict zones. They reiterated full faith in constitutional, democratic and representative system that ensures freedom and fundamental rights, an independent judiciary, a free and responsible media and, above all, sovereignty of the people reflected through federal and provincial legislatures.
The conference also emphasised the need for evolving a broad national consensus among all stakeholders on major national issues, such as (a) terrorism, (b) economy (macro-economic policy, state corporations, taxation, non-development expenditure, energy, rehabilitation and reconstruction of flood and terrorism affected), (c) foreign policy, (d) national security and neighbours; crisis of Balochistan and (e) transparent and accountable governance and across the board accountability.
Hassan Askari Rizvi, a leading political analyst, said the new agenda argues that the Constitution of Pakistan must be implemented and followed in a letter and spirit by all players because that would improve prospects for democracy in Pakistan. "All players have to show restraint rather than each player cultivating an aura of self-righteousness and assuming a self ascribed responsibility of rectifying the ills in the rest of society," he said, adding, "Therefore, media has a role to provide information and analysis to the people for making an informed political judgment."
Rizvi was of the view that media should not appear to be propagandist, sensational and one-sided. According to Rizvi, at the moment the society, including political forces, is highly polarized on major issues and that they need to work within the framework of the constitution and resolve their political matters through the parliament rather than through non-elected institutions.
Speakers at the conference called upon all organs of the state to work within the parameters of the constitution and frustrate any effort aimed at bringing in a change through undemocratic and unconstitutional means. They urged all the institutions to respect each others' legitimate constitutional space, people's mandate, and ensure the independence of judiciary, media and transparent and accountable governance. They called upon all major political parties and stakeholders to sit together to evolve a national agenda.
They reiterated their view that the state must extend its full writ to every nook corner of its territory and stop any armed outfit from operating from its soil against its own citizens and neighbors.
The conference also expected of the government to continue respecting media freedom in response to the media observing professional ethics, objectivity and neutrality.
The Draft Information Act proposed by SAFMA in collaboration with various stakeholders should be adopted by the parliament to empower people. PEMRA Law should be replaced by the Draft PEMRA Law and Press Council should be formed as proposed by SAFMA. They also held the view that government agencies should avoid the temptation of being selective in granting advertisements to pressurize any section of the media.
The participants were unanimous in their views about the implementation of Seventh Wage Board Award and formation of 8th and 9th Wage Board Awards. They said there should be an end to illegal retrenchment of journalists. They urged on law enforcement agencies that killers of journalists and those who harass media persons must be brought to book. In the same way, they said, journalists working in conflict regions should be provided protection and insurance coverage.
SAFMA Pakistan also planned to initiate a public discourse on the abovementioned national agenda. It plans to convene a national conference to facilitate broader consensus among civil society members from the platform of Citizens for Democracy