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'Media Is Unfair, Bias-Ridden, Corrupt'

Former information minister Javed Jabbar spoke to Outlook about his resignation and the media's fear that the military regime might try to muffle it. Excerpts from the interview:

'Media Is Unfair, Bias-Ridden, Corrupt'
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Why did you resign? One of the reasons given is that you did so as your wife is working for a western NGO...

My reasons for quitting are personal. What I will say is that it was a privilege to be associated with what is possibly the first military-led government in contemporary history which went out of its way to support and strengthen the free press. This has already been acknowledged publicly by the president of the All-Pakistan Newspapers Society and the president of the Council of Pakistan Newspapers Editors. In the electronic media sector as well, we've taken unprecedented initiatives. Overall, the effect of our progressive media policy will become even more visible in 2001 and 2002.

The speculative reason you have cited for my resignation-that it is connected with my wife's work with a western ngo-is baseless and absurd. My wife is not associated in any capacity with any western ngo. This kind of rumour is a good example of the kind of fabrication, character assassination and defamation that are a frequent part of the content of the free press.

What do you think of Gen Musharraf's recent remarks on the media?

When the chief executive said that the free press isn't always a fair press, he expressed a basic truth. It's due to the very nature of the press which prefers an adversarial role to the government in order to be credible. It's also due to factors such as plain incompetence, editorial and proprietorial bias and prejudice, corrupt practices and the tendency to magnify bad news while down-playing good news as it's assumed to be dull. The free press fairly frequently is an unfair press. This isn't the view of one government alone. Any independent survey of readers' opinions may show that many citizens share this view. The press should address its own imbalance.

Do you feel some restrictions are going to be placed on the press?

There was no such plan and I'm totally confident that the chief executive is 100 per cent sincere when he reiterates his determination not to place any restrictions on the press in the future as well. It's the press that must learn to more effectively regulate its own levels of competence, truthfulness, balance and fairness.

You've had a distinguished record in the ngo sector. Will the current debate on its role take us anywhere?

The ngo world in recent years has been misrepresented due to the irresponsibility and ignorance of some journalists and by the hysteria whipped up by some extremist religious elements. Just because some ngos have been badly managed or have facilitated misuse of funds, and because some of them advocate causes and issues that alienate some people doesn't mean they are hostile to the people's interests.

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