IPI concerned about stifling of media in Pakistan ahead of polls

  • Letter sent to PM, CJP, political leaders highlighting threats faced by media

KARACHI: All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS) here Tuesday expressed concern over prevailing media situation in the country and forwarded a letter of the International Press Institute (IPI) pertaining to the threats faced by press and media in the country ahead of elections.

The letter said that the IPI, a global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists for media freedom, is deeply concerned about ongoing coercive measures to curtail the independence of press in Pakistan.

In a letter sent to caretaker Prime Minister Nasirul Mulk, Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar, Chief Election Commissioner Justice Sardar Muhammad Raza, Senate Chairman Muhammad Sadiq Sanjrani and Leader of Opposition in the Senate Sherry Rehman, the IPI highlighted a number of serious threats to press freedom ahead of the country’s July 25 elections.

Alleged physical intimidation, abduction and torture of dissenting journalists, the forcible denial of the public’s right to access independent newspapers through the widespread disruption of newspaper distribution and the effective blockading of independent channel broadcasts to television audiences was highlighted as threats facing the press. The letter described those threats as an affront to the very democratic values enshrined in the constitution of the country.

“These actions deny the public’s fundamental right to receive news and information and to participate in informed debate about matters of public interest, in particular, the military’s role in civilian affairs,” IPI Executive Director Barbara Trionfi wrote in the letter, which was also sent to the leaders of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI).

Trionfi highlighted a number of troubling incidents which she said must be viewed against the backdrop of the upcoming elections.

The letter said that according to media reports, on June 6, a senior woman journalist Gul Bokhari, from the Nawa-e-Waqt /Nation Group, was abducted for several hours late at night while on her way to work. The same night, another broadcast journalist Asad Kharal was physically assaulted in Lahore.

Moreover, numerous newspaper editors have been forced to drop dissenting columns from newspapers, leading some columnists to post their uncensored columns on social media platforms, Trionfi’s letter noted.

Equally disturbing is the nationwide intimidation of newspaper distributors, apparently intended to disrupt the circulation of newspapers Dawn, Jang and The News.

Reports indicate that acts of intimidation occur daily in some large metropolitan residential areas and in medium-sized towns. Identical tactics are being deployed against cable operators affiliated to the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority. News channels such as GEO and DAWN News are being regularly blocked from reaching audiences.

Trionfi said that IPI was greatly concerned about increasing pressure on the country’s media. “Such a climate is inimical to both democracy and the free flow of information necessary to this upcoming election,” she wrote.

“Unless rigorous measures are taken to halt further attempts to influence reporting in the media, and to ensure that newspapers are allowed to publish freely and television channels are allowed to broadcast in Pakistan without any further harassment, doubts may be cast on the credibility of the upcoming elections,” the letter continued.

Trionfi urged the recipients of the letter to do everything possible to ensure that the deteriorating environment for the independent press is reversed and that the press should be protected from attacks by state institutions.

Moreover, Dawn newspaper has voiced its concern after its circulation witnessed disruptions in some cities. In a statement issued on Tuesday, the management of Dawn said that the move to forcibly deny readers access to any newspaper is a violation of Article 19 of the constitution.