Pak govt curbing media with new laws: FP report

Zarghon Shah
Wednesday, Mar 02, 2022

ISLAMABAD: A Foreign Policy magazine report, published recently, says the government of Pakistan is bent upon tightening its control over media, censor and punish journalists through new laws via oversight bodies, in order to enhance its power.

The report titled “Pakistan’s new media crackdown threatens press freedom,” says the government of Pakistan wants to stifle investigative journalism and critical comments in the country in line with its new laws, unacceptable to the journalist community.

One such law --the Protection of Journalists and Media Professionals Act 211 -- is seen as an attempt to further undermine constitutionally guaranteed freedom of the press. “Prime Minister Imran Khan has long antipathy for media and has rarely raised his voice against attacks on journalists and their disappearances,” says the report.

“The Pakistan government by establishing “‘media tribunals’ will have the power to impose steep fines for media organizations and journalists who violate its code of conduct or publish content it deems to be ‘fake news,” the reports says while referring to the Human Rights Watch. “The proposed law would also increase government control by allowing government officials to be appointed to key positions,” the reports suggests.

“Pakistan is among the most dangerous countries in the world to be a journalist. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a US-based nongovernmental organization that tracks press freedom around the world, says 63 journalists have been killed in Pakistan since 1992. Most of them were Pakistani; the Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl was beheaded by extremists in Karachi in February 2002.”

“You’re having forced resignations from both TV channels and the print media. There’s no investigative journalism, people are too scared to do it,” the report says, quoting renowned journalist Ahmed Rashid. “Journalists have been beaten up, tortured, shot. We have one of the highest rates of deaths of journalists in the world,” said Ahmed Rashid, who sits on the Committee to Protect Journalists board, according to the FP report

“Rashid and other news veterans say media owners are cowed by threats to pull government advertising, pretty much their only source of income amid the country’s poor economic performance. Despite optimistic official growth projections, Pakistan is still struggling to recover from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

International media watchdogs, says the report, were also denied access to Pakistan; CPJ’s Asia program coordinator, Steven Butler, was denied entry in 2019. “Journalists who find outlets abroad to publish their work and provide income are branded foreign agents intent on the destruction of the Pakistani state.

“Asma Shirazi anchors a political affairs show on the private Aaj TV in Pakistan. She has been harassed, trolled, and had her home broken into twice—including once when she, her husband, and two young children were home. She has no doubt the government would like her silenced,” the report says.

“Our society is a democratic society, and people do realize why these journalists are not on air, are not speaking, why their voices are not being heard,” she said. “These critical voices are a blessing in democracies. But now that they are not there, there is a huge gap. And people know this, they see this, and they know why it is.”