Pakistan: censorship by stealth by Suddaf Chaudhary
Media independence in Pakistan is suffering, with the authorities using creative ways to silence journalists.
The media in Pakistan is suffering a crisis of independence. The encroaching influence of the military is having a deleterious effect and reporters are resorting to self-censorship to stay on the right side of the most powerful institution in Pakistan today.
According to a Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) report from September this year, the pressures the military quietly exerts on journalists that encourage self-censorship are multifaceted.Sometimes it can be quite blunt. Take the case of Gul Bukhari, a social media activist who was abducted by masked men in Lahore’s army-controlled cantonment area. (She was later freed.) ‘I think Gul’s abduction came at a time when there was immense pressure on the press to fall in line with the establishment’s line,’ says Aliya Iftikhar, Asia Research Associate at CPJ. ‘Her abduction definitely added to the climate of fear and the feeling that no critical voices were safe.’
Matiullah Jan, a former anchor at the television news channel Waqt News was also someone who challenged the status quo, probing and questioning the military apparatus. He was subsequently attacked last year in a roadside incident.
Matiullah says: ‘The kind of environment in which journalists are working is the most self-censored, which in effect adds to their fears and apprehensions. Therefore, many questions are not being asked about the role of the military and the conduct of the military and judges. These are the questions that are deliberately not asked.’
Many of the major networks and print media organizations are facing significant financial pressures. Pakistan’s leading Urdu daily paper Jang News has been reduced to just 8 pages. Recently Waqt News sacked all its staff and shut down its operations after 10 years of broadcasting. Matiullah was forced to resign from his role as anchor.
According to a senior broadcaster who spoke on condition of anonymity: ‘The government has added to the financial crisis, [indeed] it has actually triggered the financial crisis of media houses by revoking all government business, which used to come in the shape of advertisements. There was no time given for us to adopt a new business model in order to create chaos, in order to prevent us from holding the government accountable.’
A number of media owners I spoke to confirmed a meeting did take place on 16 October, saying that the Prime Minister then released the advertising funds – a form of ‘blackmail’ to get the media to sing the establishment’s tune. They allege they were pushed to carry out unnecessary sackings, in order to create a facade of financial pressures.
Taha Siddiqui, a journalist who was attacked earlier this year has shared the pressures applied by ISPR in a tweet regarding how he was approached by Colonel Shafiq. Colonel Shafiq did not respond to several requests for comment.
Another, in Islamabad, spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the conditions of her employment. ‘How it works is, if they, the establishment, are unhappy with a post you get a call from Colonel Shafiq who pressures you into removing the post in question, and if you don’t there are consequences at your place of employment.’ Lieutenant Colonel Muhammad Shafiq Malik is the Assistant Director of Domestic Media for ISPR, the media wing of the armed forces.
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The above article was published on 15th Nov following which DG ISPR Gen Asif Gafoor lauded Pakistani media for its response to challenges on 16th Nov. Ironically the biggest challenge for Pakistan media as stated above by Suddaf Chaudhary is Pakistan military. As is rightly highlighted in many of my previous articles “Generalism over Journalism” is the order of the day in Pakistan.
Journalists in Pakistan are constantly living under death threats, harassment and other forms of violence being carried out by intelligence agencies, political parties and militants groups. The following report by Amnesty International further corroborates such practices rampant in Pakistan.
Repeated rebuttals from DG ISPR’s office stating no role of Pakistan Army in abductions, disappearance, and death of journalists undermine the credibility of the military. A critical step would be to investigate its own military and intelligence agencies against levied charges and ensure that those responsible for human rights violations against journalists are brought to justice. Also, intimidation to stifle the media and undermine press freedom is an absolute no go in a state which calls itself a democracy!
27 Dec 18/Sunday Written by Afsana