June 21, 2021
In his address, senior journalist and anchor Hamid Mir said that in certain circumstances, he disagreed with the generally accepted notion that journalists should be unbiased in their reporting.
“If a battle is being fought between the supremacy of the law and lawlessness, then we (the journalists) are duty-bound to stand beside the law and not remain neutral in such circumstances,” he told participants.
Mir said the journalists have to side with democracy against dictatorship in the country. He said noted journalists Maulana Muhammad Ali Jauhar Ali, Maulana Zafar Ali Khan, and Hamid Nizami took similar stances and were imprisoned for their writings.
He cited a couplet of noted journalist Minhaj Barna to emphasise that the press in the country was under siege. He said Barna wrote the couplet to depict the worsening situation of censorship while he was imprisoned. “Presently, there are now news channels as well as newspapers but you will see many of the speeches made here would not figure in their 9pm bulletins tonight,” Mir said.
Referring to former SCBA president Ali Ahmed Kurd’s fiery speech, Mir joked that the senior lawyer cpuld end up having a sedition case registered against him. He said the lawyers and journalists had not gathered here because of any issue or vendetta with certain state institutions or individuals.
“The lawyers have continued the mission of the country’s founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah for the rule of law and peaceful political struggle,” he pointed out.
He said his news channel had banned him from his show without any court order or direction from the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority.
“People are aghast as to why I was banned for a speech I made outside a press club,” he said. The senior journalist termed the ban as an instance of censorship rampant in the country.
Senior journalist Talat Hussain pointed out that the powers to be in the country have undertaken a structural takeover in order to perpetuate the status quo. “People from every segment of society like businessmen, journalists, politicians are part of the structural takeover,” he said.
Hussain said the owners of media outlets did not care about the freedom of the press in the country. “It’s ironic that media owners who have benefitted much from the media industry have no qualms about the freedom of the press in the country,” he said.
Onn the other hand, media workers and journalists despite being paid no salaries are pitted on the forefront to protect the right of freedom of expression in the country,” he said.
Hussain said the job of a journalist was to document events happening in the country and bring them before the people. “Please don’t make me a revolutionary, I am a journalist whose job is to document, expose and analyse events in the country. My struggle is for the space that lets me do my job,” he told participants.
Hussain also said journalism was misconstrued as a fourth pillar of the state. “Media is not the fourth pillar of any state in any philosophy across the world. Journalists don’t want to be the fourth pillar rather they want to hold accountable the three pillars of state,” he said.
Senior journalist Munizae Jahangir said that today’s convention would make it clear that people are now ready to fight for their rights and they will never compromise on their freedom.
Jahangir said journalists were being attacked and also silenced in expressing their anger against the assaults. “The law of the jungle will no longer work now,” she said.
The senior journalist called for amendment in Article 19 of the Constitution to allow journalists to report on issues deemed off-limits on the pretext of national security and cohesion. “Now, Article 19 has to be amended because it prevents journalists from telling the whole truth,” she said.
She said her late mother Asma Jahangir would have been happy and proud at the unity between lawyers and journalists. “My mother would have been glad to see large number of women lawyers present here if she were alive today,” she added.
Referring to Asma Jahangir’s struggle against enforced disappearances, she said her mother took up 400 cases of enforced disappearances and posed the question to the judiciary under what law were they picked up. “Now, Hamid Mir has now raised a similar question: under what law are you silencing us,” she said.
Munizae Jahangir said the silence of the grave was no longer acceptable to people. “The Taliban would attack radio stations and press units because they knew that society can only stand through voices of the people,” she said.
Broadcast journalist and anchor Amber Shamsi spoke about how freedom of the press was being continually undermined with censorship in the country. She said media workers have been facing obstacles in their work and threats in the line of duty since time immemorial.
“Censorship is a reality, interviews are stopped mid-way, threats are made over the phone and broadcasts are taken down,” Shamsi said. “But now it’s time to say enough is enough, it’s time to move beyond this helplessness,” she added.
Nasir Zaidi, Secretary-General PFUJ, proposed that the lawyers, representatives of civil society and journalists should establish a joint platform to struggle for their common goals.
Shahzada Zulfiqar, President PFUJ, said that the owners of the media outlets have never fought for the freedom of the press in the country’s history.
“The struggle for the freedom and independence of the media has to be carried out by journalists and lawyers,” he said.