- A mark of dishonour for government
In Washington, PM Imran Khan dismissed concerns about media freedom in Pakistan saying it was freer than the media in Britain. The PM can deceive his dyed-in-the wool followers but not the people of Pakistan or the world at large.
The complaints about unprecedented pressure on media came first from the opposition leaders, writers and bloggers. They criticised the government for intimidating journalists and broadcasters. Also, for the abductions and beatings of journalists and the treason case instituted against a columnist. Some of the anchorpersons were summarily removed and critical write-ups by columnists discarded at orders from above. Several TV channels were briefly taken off-air and opposition protests and news conferences remained unreported.
Protests from journalists’ bodies in different cities were followed by strongly worded resolutions from CPNE and APNS describing government’s proposal to form a single body to regulate both electronic and print media as institutionalised “arm-twisting”. The media, it was maintained, was already braving strong pressures in the form of press advices and measures of intimidation from ruling quarters which are tantamount to undeclared censorship.
Soon after, the issue was taken up by news agencies like Reuters and AFP and by respectable western newspapers. A write up in the New York Times in July described Imran Khan’s ‘New Pakistan’ as being as good as the old, looking like a struggling dictatorship. Another opinion piece in Washington Post in July captioned “A dirty war on freedom of the press in Pakistan” maintained that, “certain forces aim to prevent the media from providing independent coverage of the country’s central political issue — specifically, a deepening power struggle between the military and the civil authorities.”
Foreign governments considered friendly by Pakistan are the next in line to comment negatively on how those who matter are stifling the media. A hard-hitting report by the UK government’s influential Foreign Affairs Committee cites examples from several countries, including Pakistan, where it notes that the future for press freedom is bleak. The report demands that those who violate media freedom be shamed and punished through international coordination and sanctions. It should be difficult to ignore UK, Pakistan’s second-largest export market and third largest source of FDI.