“Pakistan’s Geo News has been blocked preceding to visit of Prime Minister to US”, hits the headlines world over, although nothing new-fangled for Pakistan. Imposition of restriction on media, assault, abduction, torture and murder of media staffs is an everyday affair and happen to be established norm in Pakistan. Anyone and everyone not toeing the Government line and is critical of Army or any dissent with state policy, remains under incessant threat. The journalists are frequently placed under ‘watch list’ by Pakistan’s Federal Investigative Agency (FIA) and other intelligence agencies as was the case where, at least five Journalists and a Blogger were put under scanner by FIA during visit of Crown Prince, Mohammad Bin Salman of Saudi Arabia in February 2019. The country ranks 142 in World Press Freedom Index as per survey conducted in 2019.
Incidences of media blackout
Censoring of media is not a new phenomenon in Pakistan and imposition of restriction is prevalent ever since its creation irrespective of whether it is a military rule or ‘democratic’ elected puppet government alike. It was during General Ayub’s regime when media laws were introduced for the first time and promulgated Press and Publication Ordinance (PPO) in 1962 to exercise strict control over press. The broadcasting media of radio and Television established in 1964 were also brought under control of the Government agencies. Using these rules authorities could shut down publication of any newsitem or arrest journalist.
Censorship was at its Zenith during General Zia’s Martial Law regime where more stringent laws were introduced in PPO and were more dictatorial in nature.The publication of two newspapers, “Daily Musawat” and “Daily Sadaquat” were banned on October 17,1979. Eleven journalists were prosecuted under Martial Law regulations, and for the first time four journalists received lashing in public.
Although the Pakistani media was somewhat liberalised during General Musharraf’s time to exploit the boom in electronic media and pursue the hidden agenda of countering Indian media and project military rule in good light. However, when media drifted from government’s envisaged path, media experienced severe backlash from the state. Though, Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) was created in 2002 to “ facilitate and promote a free, fair and independent media “, but it was used as a tool to impose restriction award punishments varying from imprisonment upto three years, fines of upto $165000, and cancellation of licence.
Violence against journalists
The security conditions for the journalists has deteriorated in last decade where roughly more than 100 reporters and media staff have been killed and number of them lived to tell the tale of the assault. Ironically, the violence against media employees are continuing unabated .Recently, Mr Bilal Mohammad Khan, an independent investigative journalist was fatally stabbed to death on June 16, 2019 in Islamabad, the capital of the state. The journalist used to run his personal You Tube channel. Not many days prior to his murder, he had posted a tweet on Twitter where he was critical of Inter-Services Intelligence, the county’s intelligence agency and also criticised the Prime Minister. It was feared that, in all likelihood, the attack was state sponsored. In another two separate incidents, Mr Ali Sher Rajpur and Mr Malik Amanullah Khan, media staff were killed in April 2019 itself. Besides noted Journalist, Hamid Mir was attacked twice and has been threatened on numerous occasions who later claimed that the Army and ISI want media to dance to their tune or face the consequences.
When Imran Khan was ‘selected’ as Prime Minister of Pakistan post ‘landslide victory’ of his party, Tehreek-e-Insaf, media was extremely optimistic and was expecting liberalisation and freedom of press as assured during his election campaign. However, nothing changed as Government carried on hitherto-fore to gag the dissent voices in the garb of safety of nation. The atmosphere of trepidation persists, dictate are being issued to stay away from reporting on numerous issues especially disparagement of Army, judiciary and administration. Large numbers of channels were under duress blocked. Recently, Pakistani Information Minister, Mr Fawad Choudhary had announced of “massive crackdown” on media to put an end to ‘abuse’ of social media platforms.
Incidentally, an interview with Mr Asif Ali Zardari, former President, on Geo News Channel, was taken off air within a minute of it went Live and no reason was cited by the Government agencies, claimed Mr Hamid Mir, the Interviewer.
In an another episode, a Live interview with Maryam Nawaz, leader of Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N) and daughter of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, on Hum News was also blocked forcefully. The intimidation, harassment and coercion have assumed a different dimension on the whole under the new Government. It looks as if a gag order on Media in Pakistan is spreading quickly. A prominent journalist Munizae Jahangir sums it all with reference to state of media in Pakistan “in a democracy, the Opposition should be or banned as ‘anti-state’ movements. “National security cannot be about protecting allowed to be heard; media should not be censored through vague laws or forced to self-censor; and civil society movements should not be maligned and/ vested interests of a powerful military but must instead protect vulnerable citizens of society. Pakistan is a resilient country with strong lawyers’ bodies, divided yet lively journalist unions, a fierce Opposition and citizens that have fought for their rights under harsher circumstances, so I am confident that at the very least there will be a ferocious fight for democratic values.”
25 Jul 19/Thursday Written by Fayaz