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National Conference of the South Asian Free Media Association Pakistan

Annie W. Patterson, U.S. Ambassador tp Pakistan
Remarks to South Asian Free Media Association
Islamabad Marriott, Pakistan
November 30, 2007

Thank you.

Secretary Imtiaz Alam, President Nusrat Javed, Secretary Mustansar Javed, and other distinguished guests and friends from the journalism community.

Thank you for inviting me to the national conference of the South Asian Free Media Association Pakistan. I am delighted to be in this distinguished gathering of journalists and other media professionals not only from Pakistan but also from neighboring South Asian countries.

The right of the people to speak out through a free press is a hallmark of a democratic society. Journalism is challenging in all societies. America’s freedom of the press is enshrined in our constitution, in our First Amendment– that there shall be no law abrogating or limiting or preventing freedom of the press. Accordingly, we do not have any state control of the media, although the role of the media is constantly debated in my society.

At the same time, journalists have a responsibility to exercise this freedom with the highest standards of professionalism and integrity. The relationship between a government and the media must be based on the recognition of each other’s responsibilities and obligations and an adherence on both sides to their respective roles. The government must grant the media unfettered access to public information.

In my country, the press has emerged as America’s self-appointed monitor of official life, recorder of public events, and unofficial arbiter of public behavior. The constitution’s protections and the tradition of liberty enjoyed in the United States have allowed public expression to flourish.

In 2006, President Bush noted during his visit to Pakistan that Pakistan still has a distance to travel on the road to democracy but praised the lively and generally free press.

He also noted that Pakistanis were free to criticize their government, and that there were a number of political parties and movements that regularly challenged the government. These institutions of civil society are fundamental to a thriving democracy.

While the media was restricted in Pakistan, it operated freely in the United States and other countries. International broadcast, print, and internet news media highlighted Pakistan’s political situation, arrests, and media crackdown. I saw the crackdown on the Karachi journalists on three different international channels within ten minutes.

One of President Musharraf’s greatest achievements was the flowering of a free and vibrant media. This is a permanent change in Pakistan and cannot be reversed, whatever steps might be taken by the government. The United States has urged President Musharraf since November 3 to lift the state of emergency, restore the media, release those detained, and return to constitutional rule. As we noted, we have been particularly concerned about the punitive economic measures taken against local media.

Pakistan’s media outlets are full of vibrant and talented journalists. Pakistani news organizations increasingly provide a constructive channel for debate and dissent. These media organizations are also businesses and contribute to the economic growth of the country.

It is heartening to note that Pakistan is resuming its strides towards democracy. We welcome the changes made by President Musharraf this past week – the relinquishing of his military post and assumption of his position as civilian president. And we welcome President Musharraf’s assurance last night that he intends to lift the Emergency on December 16th.

Secretary Rice has pointed out, and I quote: “In a democracy the citizens should have the assurance that the policies of their government will be held up for criticism by a free and independent press without the interference of their government.” Unquote.

The United States supports press freedom worldwide. The United States values freedom of the press as a key component of democratic governance. Democratic societies, including our own, have many faults, but eventually they are accountable. There is almost nothing in our country that is not revealed in the press sooner or later. This is a critical element in accountable democratic governance.

In the United States and in many other countries including Pakistan, the press fosters active debate, provides investigative reporting, and serves as a forum to express different points of view, particularly on behalf of those who are marginalized in society. The United States commends journalists around the world for the important role they play and for their commitment to the free exchange of ideas. The United States in particular salutes those in the press who courageously do their work at great risk.

The press is often a target of retaliation by those who feel threatened by freedom of expression and transparency in democratic processes. Journalists are often the first to uncover corruption, to report from the front lines of conflict zones, and to highlight missteps by governments. This work places many journalists in danger, and it is the duty of governments and citizens worldwide to speak out for their protection and for their vital role in open societies.

We have called upon the government of Pakistan to quickly lift the remaining curbs on media and permit broadcasters to resume their programming. The media must be free to report on events and share their opinions with the public.

In conclusion, I want to say that I am a great admirer of the Pakistani news media. I read many English newspapers every day, receive translations of Urdu papers, watch TV and listen to the radio. I enjoy all the media in Pakistan and applaud all for the independent media. Thank you all very much for inviting me here to express my high regard for Pakistan’s lively, free, and professional media.

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