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Officials barred from interacting with media 

05 Oktober 2010 11:12:04

Officials barred from interacting with media

CDPI expresses concern over cabinet decision

ISLAMABAD, October 5, 2010: In a letter, dated September 16, 2010, Cabinet Division has instructed all ministries, divisions and chief secretaries to issue necessary instructions to all concerned to avoid holding press conferences and maintaining contacts with the media.

The said letter, signed by Additional Secretary Qazi Afaq Hussain, (a copy of which is available with CPDI), also states: “In case any official fails to comply with the instructions, disciplinary proceedings under Conduct and Efficiency and Discipline Rules 1973 may be initiated”.

The letter mentions that these instructions were being issued to implement cabinet decision which was taken in a meeting held on September 1, 2010.

The Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives (CPDI) believes that such measures seriously hamper free flow of information and promote culture of secrecy in bureaucracy. Barring the officials from interacting with the media through such a directive which puts absolute restrictions also runs contrary to the spirit of the Article 19-A of the Constitution.

It means that government is interested in controlling the flow of information as such directives are designed to make sure that least information is available in the public domain about functioning of the government and the way nation’s resources are being put to use.

Instead of joining hands with bureaucracy in preventing information from coming in the public domain, the coalition government should seriously work on enacting right to information law about which PPP and PML-N made a commitment in the Charter of Democracy, Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani, promised in his first speech in the National Assembly after his election as prime minister and President Asif Ali Zardari pledged in his first address to the joint sitting of the Parliament.

Over 85 countries have such laws which provide a mechanism for providing information to the citizens when they need it as well as lay guidelines for the government to publish information in a proactive manner. Bangladesh and India have also enacted information laws which greatly help in making the functioning of the government open and transparent and in holding public representatives and state functionaries accountable to the citizens. Furthermore, in the presence of right to information law, the government will not have to resort to such directives as the information law would also guide the government as to how issues related to information are to be handled; what kind of information can and cannot be made available in the public domain.