I’ve become a fan of Pakistani Press: William Martin
Pointing towards the photos of assassinated Pakistani journalists displayed in the hall Consul General termed them as extremely brave who had sacrificed their lives for the freedom of the Press. “You are strengthening the democracy in Pakistan; you are making government more representative of people”, he added. William Martin stating the first change that was made to the Constitution of America was to guarantee the freedom of expression and the freedom of the Press, said: “For me there is only one role for the Press that is truth; to inform others how to change the situation or deal with situation”.
Quoting the instance when two young journalists working for the Washington Post “literally removed President of United States from his job”, William Martin recalled that when he was growing up in California he could barely go outside due to ‘incomprehensible’ pollution. He told that through the exposure of the truth by Media showing what was wrong, what was causing that, what were the results of certain people’s action, the rule had been changed and now the “water in the ocean of California is clear”. Anticipating that brave journalists of Pakistan would bring change & development here, he observed that journalists were making extra-ordinary contribution to their countries around the world. He further noted that people here were embracing new tools of Social Media. Pointing towards the vast potential of Pakistan’s populace he said that this wonderful country enjoyed the freedom of information that in itself was an extraordinary powerful tool: “You know how hard it is to achieve, I urge you to protect it”. Stressing on the need of free flow of information for the future progress he emphasized that fundamental right of the freedom of expression must be enjoyed by everyone, everywhere.
Attaché Public Affairs Kevin Murakami, speaking on the occasion, reiterated that Freedom of Press was enshrined in American Constitution: “It is part of the DNA of our country. We are born with it and it is something we live by and seek to achieve. In fact one of our (Declaration of Independence & Constitution) founding fathers Benjamin Franklin was a journalist”. He said that United States government did several sets of things to ensure freedom of expression globally: “We engage regularly with governments around the world to encourage the freedom of Press, we encourage the environment whereby the journalists are free to pursue the truth and free to publish it. We also send dozens of Pakistani journalists to the US every year and we bring American journalists to Pakistan as part of building networks strengthening relationships. Last fall we had Daniel Pearl World Music Day and the message behind that again was the freedom of Press”. Informing that the Consulate had supported the first ever Social Media Conference last year Kevin told that they would support another such Summit this year. “And of course the State Department issues the annual Human Rights Reports. Mandated by our Congress this is published every year. It talks about the status of the freedom of the Press in every single country around the world and it is an important document in terms of helping Journalists around the world practice their craft. Press Attaché Amanda Cauldwell said that as a guest here she couldn’t comment on Media laws here. She noted that for some people Media laws meant curbing the way one reported, while for others it was promoting a responsible media. She also introduced the Urdu translation of Professor Jane Kirtley’s book Media Laws – a scholarly research on the historical evolution of media laws in western societies - (copies of that was presented to all the participants).
Visiting faculty member Karachi University Kamal Siddiqui maintaining that Media laws here were wide-ranging, observed that some rules made before Partition were no more relevant. Observing that Government rewarded/bribed media with advertisements, he said that owners could not refuse that as they had to pay salaries too. Lamenting that media was not attacking the real issues, he admitted that competition and lack of news space killed good stories. Responding to an apprehension that employers of many newspapers/channels did not pay salaries to their workers for months, he informed that funds were provided to journalists unions using that many matters could be solved (for instance their relocation to safer places). Kamal Siddiqui informed that following the agreed code of conduct, media (for instance) had stopped showing body parts of (bombing) victims. However, Kamal Siddiqui failed to respond to this scribe’s query about those shadowy characters that call, follow, lock-up and torture those journalists who work on ‘issues’. This scribe (who too was picked, hooded, locked up & interrogated) is aware of innumerable such cases including former Ambassador to USA Husain Haqqani who was picked up (with his brother). Columnist Anil Ditta has commented that here the Media set-up was capitalistic & was manipulated by corporate sector. Noting that lots of groups were promoting hatred, he suggested changes in the laws.
Supreme Court Advocate Zahid Ebrahim talking about the vulnerability of journalists pointed out that media in Pakistan was extremely powerful but journalists were extremely weak. He said if it were not for the media General Musharraf would still have been in power. Observing that there was no declassification law here, he said that for access of information one needed to go to dozens of people and departments that too in vain. He said it was very difficult for a journalist to learn how certain funds weres spent. Zahid Ebrahim further pointed out that annual accounts of Media houses were astronomical. Faisal Kapadia stressed on the need of coming up with Urdu font to boost Social Media. Stating that access to internet had been deemed as basic human rights he said there was no absolutely free internet in any country in the world; yet Social Media could not be controlled. Veteran journalist Ghazi Salahuddin lamented about the deteriorating quality of education in public universities and noted that (Mass Communication) students did not read enough and did not have the intellectual background. He said that Pakistanis were obsessed with politics that undermined the quality of power that media had. It was noted that people expected too much from the Press: when there is no reaction even after the corruption was exposed and evidence was provided, people wanted Media to do more.