Journalists Claim Free Speech Threatened Under PTI Government

Journalists Claim Free Speech Threatened Under PTI Government
Veteran journalist Hamid Mir recently stated in a tweet that the media is under an increasing amount of censorship, and that ultimately this will hurt the Prime Minister's reputation and weaken his government. This was posted as a response to Mohammad Malick's statement that 'Free speech is hardly free', and that history tells us how although curbing free speech in the long run will ultimately lead to the demise of those who attempt to do so.

Pakistan has recently been criticized both internally and externally for the state of freedom of speech within its borders.

Pakistan ranks at 142 on the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Press Freedom Index.

The statements by Hamid Mir and Mohammad Malik come in the backdrop of the opposition's claims that it is being censored. Bilawal Bhutto, Chairman of the Pakistan People's Party, stated last week that 'there is no freedom for anyone in 'Naya Pakistan''. Neither people, politics nor journalism is independent. 'Naya Pakistan' is a ‘censored Pakistan’ which is not acceptable for us.”

Also read: Pakistan Ranks 142nd On Press Freedom Index 2018

Journalists too have spoken out against the government's attempts to curb free speech on multiple occasions, and highlight how the government is indulging in practices such as harassing journalists online. On world press freedom day veteran journalist Mubashir Zaidi expressed concern over the government's selective treatment of news broadcasters, implying that the government was controlling advertisements for news channels in an attempt to silence them and favor those that toed their line of narrative. It seems that those who do not fall in line suffer the loss of advertisements.

According to the Pakistan Press Freedom Foundation's report, Pakistan has witnessed murders of 72 journalists since 2002. Most of these cases remain unsolved. 

The atmosphere of fear perpetuated by the lack of progress regarding bringing those that harm journalists to justice, and a lack of oversight over those that intimidate distributors and cable providers, is creating an atmosphere of self censorship. Journalists have been prosecuted and abducted in the past, and it seems that the environment in which they operate is becoming increasingly dangerous. Pakistan also lost three places on RSF Press Freedom Index this year and now ranks 142nd.

On the 1st of July 2019 the Pakistan Press Freedom Foundation issued a report highlighting new rules for interacting with media personnel, issued by Punjab's Inspector General of Police. These new rules have been perceived as an attack on press freedom and have been rejected by the journalist bodies.

The statement declares that officers interacting with media personnel may face strict legal action. “The media has held the ruling elite, the bureaucracy and corrupt rulers accountable by revealing the truth before the public. Such tactics cannot stop them from bringing forth the truth. If the government does not call off the notification, the government will itself be responsible for it”, a statement by Electronic Media Reporters Association (EMRA) President Asif Butt warned.

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