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US Urges No 'Rollback' of Pakistan Press Freedom


The United States said Tuesday it is important that there be no roll back of gains made in press freedom in Pakistan in recent years. The State Department said it is closely watching implementation of a decree issued by Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf that gives authorities more power to curb the media. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

Officials here are careful to credit Mr. Musharraf's government with reform gains in recent years, including a freer media environment that has seen the emergence of dozens of independent television channels.

But they are also making clear their concern about the implications of Monday's decree by the Pakistani leader which grants more power to government regulators to punish broadcasters deemed to be operating illegally.

At a news briefing, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack reaffirmed the U.S. position that the controversy over President Musharraf's suspension of Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry needs to be resolved by the Pakistanis themselves within the confines of the country's laws and judicial process.

As to the president's media decree, McCormack urged what he termed "our friends in Pakistan" to view a free media as an institution that ultimately strengthens the society, while noting also that the media have a responsibility to report the news accurately and objectively.

He said a freer press environment is one of a number of advances during the Musharraf era that also includes a more vigorous economy, gains he said the United States does not want to see reversed:

"The steps that the Pakistani government has taken over the last several years, we believe, are generally in the right direction," he said. "And we want to encourage them. But it is also important to remember that even though a situation may be somewhat difficult, and that there is some turmoil in the system, over the long term it is important not to roll back any of the advances that have been made over recent years."

McCormack said earlier in the day that the United States "absolutely" supported the growth of responsible media in Pakistan and that if the Musharraf decree was used to shut down news outlets, it would be something the United States would watch closely.

The spokesman would not say if Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice intended to make a public statement on Pakistani media curbs, and the political violence related to the chief justice controversy, as urged by three key members of the U.S. Congress.

In a letter to Rice, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joe Biden, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Lantos and the House committee's ranking Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen urged her to call for an immediate end to political violence in Pakistan, and to press the Musharraf government to commit to holding free and fair elections by year's end.

The three legislators said the national interests of both Pakistan and the United States are served by a speedy restoration of full democracy in Pakistan and an end to what they termed "state sponsored intimidation," some of it violent, against Pakistani citizens peacefully protesting government actions.

They called for Rice to make a public appeal to that end, and also to raise the issues "forcefully" in diplomatic contacts with Pakistani officials.