Monday, November 26, 2007

POLITICS - American Foreign Policy, Will We Ever Learn

"PAKISTAN: Media Under Siege" by Beena Sarwar, IPS (Inter Press Service)


From being the liberal President under whom Pakistan’s independent electronic media was born and flourished, Pervez Musharraf is now seen as the military general who imposed emergency rule on Nov 3 and suspended the Constitution and the independent judiciary.

Musharraf also blocked all independent television channels on the cable network. There were police raids on media organizations, printing presses and bureau offices and detentions of journalists.

For many, Musharraf’s ham-handed dealing with the media over the past year, and particularly the last couple of weeks, evokes bitter memories of the late Gen. Ziaul Haq’s martial law with its strict media censorship and ‘press advice’. Newspapers in protest published blank spaces where material had been censored. Dissenting journalists were arrested and some were even flogged.

Musharraf has been comparatively benign.But this is a very different era, where independent news and views and a continuous flow of information had become the norm. In Zia’s time, there were only a handful of independent newspapers, hardly a threat, given the abysmally low 30 per cent literacy rate. Musharraf has had to contend with the independent electronic media with a huge outreach. Until now, his claim that he gave the media more freedom than ever before was true to an extent, say journalists, but it is a freedom they have fought for, and it has come with a price.

"An explosion in the number of independent TV channels boosted pluralism and the quality of news," noted the media watchdog Reporters Without Borders in its annual report of 2007. Simultaneously, since Pakistan’s involvement as a frontline state against the ‘war on terror, "the security forces radicalized their methods of repression: a score of journalists were kidnapped and tortured by the military." Almost two dozen have been killed in different incidents since.

On Nov 3, PEMRA (Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority) officials invaded the independent FM radio station Mast 103.6’s Karachi office with a heavy police contingent. They forced it to close transmission and confiscated its broadcast equipment, citing the station’s broadcast of its hourly news bulletins and current affairs programmes from BBC as the reason. In 2004 too, PEMRA had sealed the popular radio network’s Lahore and Karachi stations.

"Unless freedom of expression is ensured, there can be no democracy," said Shamimur Rehman, a senior reporter for daily ‘Dawn’ and president of the Karachi Union of Journalists sitting at the Karachi Press Club hunger-strike camp on Nov 11 under the watchful eye of armed police and rangers who have virtually laid siege to the club since Nov 3. Rehman was among the first journalists to be arrested on Nov 20.

What do I mean by my title? America has a long history of supporting foreign governments that are NOT REALLY DEMOCRATIC, and even are dictatorships. Prime example, our support of the Shah of Iran. Our support for the Shah lead directly to the Iran we have today.

Then, further back, there was Cuba. Will the American government ever learn that supporting any government for purely our own political reasons (anti-USSR in the past or "war on terror" today) that is not fully supported by the people of the country, in the long run, is a very bad idea.

For American Foreign Policy to work, our government needs people in charge who can take the long view and see the big picture. If nothing else, we need to act on our ideals of supporting truly democratic government and NOT to compromise this for expediency.

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