PTI’s Onslaught On Media Is A Blatant Misuse Of Power
That the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government has proved to be a bed of thorns for media is well known. In a latest round of barbaric attacks and public endorsements, the ruling party has displayed its unflinching inclination for government friendly media. The bizarre endorsement on Twitter berated critical journalists as sponsors of ‘corrupt’ narrative and hailed government friendly journalists as ‘bold and fighting for truth’. When the ruling party attacks the media, they attack Pakistanis and the constitution of Pakistan, which has enshrined freedom of speech and expression.
The tactic employed by the regime is aimed at delegitimising news outlets and media personnel, who have reported critically on the government. The pathetic nature of these particular attacks on the news media appears to be result of the media reporting aggressively on, and shedding light on, government’s failures on multiple fronts: economy, one sided accountability and lack of governance. Take for e.g. media outlets that have regularly reported on government’s botched attempts to lock opposition leaders on flimsy charges. The publisher of this article itself was targeted for pointing out BBC’s Stephen Sackur misquoted European Union election monitoring report, which clearly lists a dozen major concerns around 2018 General Elections’ credibility. While this tactic has been used by an ever-green establishment to denounce international media as western propagandists, this is the first time it has been employed on domestic media.
This latest onslaught fits into the broader authoritarian tendencies harboured by the regime. It started with Interior Minister Ijaz Shah hinting at terror attacks on the opposition, locking up Geo’s Mir Shakeel-Ur-Rehman and onwards to the abduction of various journalists, and detentions of several activists. For writers, journalists and activists, however, these authoritarian impulses create a hostile climate for individuals simply trying to do their job of reporting the news and practicing right to association. Various journalists have been targeted by the ruling party for building narratives in ‘need for opposition money’ without any proof, championed physical and verbal assaults on the media and finally listed their own favourites. The figurehead of the Pakistan government and a ruling party who are supposed to protect constitutionally mandated freedom and liberty are abusing their powers to pressure and threaten critics. The spill over effects of this are likely to be dire in Pakistan, where at least 91 cases of attacks and violations against journalists and media practitioners were documented in one year between May 3, 2019 and April 10, 2020 , as reported by Pakistan Press Freedom report.
Pakistan already ranks 145th in the World Press freedom index. The PTI’s war on the media could translate into further verbal and physical assaults on journalists, writers and activists.
The PTI’s latest strategy mirrors the approach American President, Donald Trump used throughout his tenure. After vicious attacks and verbal assaults on critical media and a bid to drive up ratings for far right media (friendly to Trump), it was reported by The Committee to Protect Journalists that Trump must refrain from ‘refrain from delegitimizing or discrediting the media or journalists performing their vital function’. For any democracy, let alone one with fragile institutions like Pakistan, it is crucial to recognize and affirm the role of a free, and most importantly, critical press.
From a pragmatist’s vantage point, PTI is banking on a base of supporters that have often seemed invulnerable to negative and critical reporting on Imran Khan led government, to continue to stick by them. The question now is whether the PTI base can sustain Imran Khan’s falling popularity.
However, the one thing we do know from history is that the last government that tried to imprison media, lock up activists and hurl abuses at the civil society was that of military dictator Parvez Musharraf. And even the all- powerful dictator could not survive their revolt.
The writer is co-founder Future of Pakistan Conference and a graduate of the London School of Economics and Political Science.