Media censorship continues unabated

Pakistan has one of the worst records on media freedom and suppression of dissent. Global media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) ranked Pakistan 142 on its press freedom index for 2019, down from 139 last year.

On the occasion of Pakistan’s 73rd Independence Day on August 15, an investigative report by Al Jazeera spoke about how in the Pakistani media the coverage of opposition leaders and civil society dissenters has been “’banned” by the government and the army.

In the report “journalists in Pakistan described to Al Jazeera as a sustained campaign of censorship that has targeted news organisations across the board, banning coverage of opposition politicians – and dissent more generally – under the aegis of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government and the country’s powerful military.”

Yet, “Pakistan’s information ministry denied any involvement in press censorship to Al Jazeera. “We do not have any instrument, law or anything else by way of which we could apply pressure to anyone,” said ministry spokesperson Tahir Khushnood. In response to Al Jazeera’s questions, Pakistan’s military spokesperson said the “[media regulator] undertakes such regulatory measures as per law”. “ISPR [the military’s press wing] interacts with news media as official mouthpiece of military to share military’s perspective on various security issues,” said Major General Asif Ghafoor. The media regulator, Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA), offered no comment to Al Jazeera.”

Further, during his trip to Washington DC, Prime Minister Imran Khan asserted that “The Pakistani media, in my opinion, is even freer than the British media,” he said, advocating for greater internal media regulation. “The media in Pakistan is not just free, but sometimes out of control.” Days later, media rights group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) termed that claim “an obscenity” in an open letter to Khan, documenting a series of attacks on press freedom perpetrated during Khan’s tenure, including legal cases against journalists, suspension of news channels and fatal attacks on reporters. “These brazen cases of censorship, which seriously threaten journalistic independence and pluralism, are characteristic of non-democratic regimes,” said RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire in the letter.”

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