The Committee to Protect Journalist (CPJ), a New York based rights organization has alleged that the freedom of the press is under threat in Pakistan where its powerful military has used fear, intimidation, and even violence to push journalists into self-censorship.
The non-profit organization having its reporters worldwide said on Wednesday that the Pakistani army has “quietly but effectively set restrictions on reporting” by establishing “lines of control” to gag the media.
The report said that the strategy includes “barring access to regions … to encouraging self-censorship through direct and indirect methods of intimidation, including … allegedly instigating violence against reporters”.
It said, “Privately, senior editors and journalists say the conditions for the free press are as bad as when the country was under military dictatorship, and journalists were flogged and newspapers forced to close.”
Reuters reports that while the army has not responded to the report, Pakistan’s Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said the government has not received any complaints of intimidation from journalists.
Referring to the recent government acts of intimidation during elections, the report said cable distributors had stopped distributing Geo’s programs to about 80 percent of households ahead of general elections.
Aljazeera said that Reuters news agency reported at least two sources at Geo News said in April that the army asked them to refrain from reporting on alleged military involvement in the incarceration of former PM Nawaz Sharif. He was ousted from office in July by Pakistan’s Supreme Court.
Similarly, the editor of Dawn said the circulation of the newspaper was blocked in several places at the behest of the military. “They’re clearly not happy with Dawn’s policies. They want Dawn to stay away from certain subjects,” its editor Zaffar Abbas said.
The US based journalists’ rights group said a journalist was beaten in a brazen attack in Islamabad, while another was assaulted by members of the security forces in Karachi.
A director at a news broadcaster said, “The mindset [of the military] now is to control the total narrative and reduce the diversity of opinion, so anything that is going against their narrative, they see as a threat.”
The CPJ report has alleged that the army, intelligence service, or groups with ties with military were linked to half of the 22 journalists’ killings in the past decade in the country. However, currently the military has been applying indirect ways of intimidation.
Stevan Butler, the Asia coordinator, the author of the report, while citing unexplained abductions and assaults, said, “People in the military and sometimes in government have discovered that there are indirect ways of putting influence on the press.”
The CPJ report came at a time when newly elected Prime Minister Imran Khan has been appreciating army and received 8-hour long long briefing by Inter Services Intelligence on Wednesday. The general elections have triggered widespread allegations of the Pakistani army fixing the vote.