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Pakistan 14 September 2004

Army spokesman accuses journalists of selling out Pakistan interests for a "few hundred dollars"

Reporters Without Borders today urged President Pervez Musharraf to get the armed forces spokesman (ISPR), Gen. Shaukat Sultan, to withdraw comments in which - in an attempt to defend the army’s tough restrictions on journalists in the northwestern Tribal Areas - he accused the Pakistani press of "selling the national interest in return for a few hundred dollars".

"The media are the guarantors of press freedom and the right to be informed, and there is no justification for Gen. Shaukat Sultan’s offensive insinuations," the organisation said in a letter to Gen. Musharraf.

Reporters Without Borders also said it is aware the Pakistani government must ensure minimum security conditions for journalists, but that requirement should not be used as a pretext for preventing the press from independently covering the situation in what is a strategic region in the fight against terrorism.

Addressing a panel of journalists last week in Peshawar (in North-West Frontier Province), Gen. Sultan argued that a five-month-old ban on journalists circulating in South Waziristan was justified because certain journalists had acted unethically and "helped the foreign media to malign Pakistan." Without naming them, he alluded to two journalists, Khawar Mehdi and Sami Yousafzai, who were arrested for working with foreign reporters.

Reporters Without Borders supported the Tribal Union of Journalists (TUJ) in the organising of a news conference in Islamabad in July to call on the authorities to respect the principle of press independent in South Waziristan and the right of journalists to move about freely there.

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