Muhammad Arif : Chairman Centre of Advisory Services for Islamic Banking and Finance (CAIF), Former Head of FSCD SBP, Former Head of Research ArifHabib Investments and Member IFSB Task Force for development of Islamic Money Market, Former Member of Access to Justice Fund Supreme Court of Pakistan

Pakistan continues to face multiple sources of internal and external conflict. While incidences of domestic terrorism have reduced, in part due to measures taken by the Pakistani state, extremism and intolerance of diversity has grown but at the end of 2020 they are again on increase.

There is some recognition by the state that instead of merely kinetic responses holistic counterterrorism policies are needed to counteract this trend. The growing extremism has been fueled by a narrow vision of Pakistan’s national identity, threatening the country’s prospect for social cohesion and stability. The inability of state institutions to reliably provide peaceful ways to resolve grievances has encouraged groups to seek violence as a legitimate alternative.

While peaceful political transitions occurred in both 2013 and 2018, the country is still facing mounting debt crisis and a perennial trade imbalance on the economic front. Furthermore, Pakistan’s high-profile disputes with neighboring India and Afghanistan have periodically resulted in violence and continue to pose a threat to regional and international security.

Although Prime Minister Imran Khan pledged to make social justice a priority after taking office in July 2018, his administration has increased restrictions on media, the political opposition, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).

They range from the suspension of TV channels, obstruction in distribution of newspapers, blockade of websites, threatening journalists, enforced disappearances of journalists, pressuring media owners to lay-off journalists critical of the government or military establishment, and so on. None of these amounts to holding the perpetrators accountable, ever. The result is that impunity for crimes against media rules Pakistan.

Scores of civilians were killed in attacks by the Pakistani Taliban, Al Qaeda, and other armed groups. Members of extremist groups, government officials, and politicians threatened the media and carried out violent attacks on journalists.The 2019-2020 report by the Freedom Network records 91 attacks against journalists across Pakistan in a one-year period, with the top three types of attacks being verbal or written threats of murder or ‘dire consequences’ (23 cases), off/online harassment (13 cases), and assassination attempts (11 cases), of which seven resulted in the actual killing of journalists.

Pakistan’s media operates in a climate of fear that impeded coverage of abuses by both government security forces and extremist armed groups. On June 16, Muhammad Bilal Khan, a freelance journalist who ran a popular YouTube channel covering politics, was stabbed to death in Islamabad. In response to such threats and attacks, journalists increasingly practice self-censorship.

Media outlets came under pressure from authorities against criticizing the government. In some cases, regulatory agencies blocked cable operators from broadcasting networks that aired critical programs. GEO TV, a private television channel, was forced off the air or had its audience’s access restricted as punishment for editorials criticizing the government.

On February 9, the Federal Investigating Agency arrested Rizwan-ur-RehmanRazi, a journalist and television host in Lahore, for social media posts that allegedly “defamed state institutions” in violation of Pakistan’s cybercrimes law. Razi was subsequently released. In May, the authorities arrested a journalist, GoharWazir, for reporting on protests by minority Pashtuns.

On July 9, the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) blocked three television news channels—Capital TV, 24 News HD, and Abbtakk News Network—after they broadcast speeches of opposition leaders. The Pakistan Broadcasters Association, a private industry association, claimed that the channels were taken off air without giving them a reason or a hearing.  On July 1, PEMRA terminated a live interview with former President Asif Ali Zardari on GEO TV shortly after it began.

Now making another hell, Prime Minister Imran Khan has directed all the ministries/divisions and attached departments to comply with the centralized policy of issuing government advertisements to the print and electronic media only through the Press Information Department (PID).

The prime minister has actually barred the ministries/divisions from issuing advertisements directly to the media.

The ministries/divisions and attached departments were officially communicated on January 8, 2020. An official communication from the PM Office titled “Streamlining government advertisements”, a copy of which, disclosed that in order to streamline the process of release of government advertisements, the prime minister has been pleased to desire the following:

1- The advertisements of the federal ministries/departments/organizations as well as autonomous and semi-autonomous bodies under their control will be released only through Press Information Department (PID) of Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. This will include all government advertisements including classified and display advertisements; and

  1. ii) The sponsoring organizations will clearly indicate the availability of funds to Press Information Department with every requisition.

The sources say this centralized policy was rejected by the media organizations because it was always used as a tool to twist the media’s arm and strangulate its independence. In the past, same efforts were made to centralize advertisement policy but it failed to achieve the desired results so it was withdrawn.

Since January, the country’s federal government and the provincial governments of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab have suspended the normal practice of placing advertisements with the two independent media groups, according a report by Dawn and a statement from the All Pakistan Newspapers Society, a private organization representing publishers.

In a speech on February 15, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan singled out the Dawn and Jang media groups, and accused them of “publishing false stories” that allegedly misrepresented his statements and his recent trip to China, according to news reports”.

The All Pakistan Newspapers Society statement said the ban represented the use advertisements as a “lever to influence the editorial policy of newspapers…aimed at silencing any dissenting voice in the press.”

Now PTV actually owned by the people of Pakistan and running with their taxes have appointed its new Chairman Naeem Bokhari who has bluntly said that PTV would give only government information’s and nothing more.

So by these moves PTI government is trying to curb the activities of Media now being one of the main pillars of the state.

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