Imran Khan ‘pressure on channels’
Pakistani Opposition parties have accused Prime Minister Imran Khan of intimidating broadcasters into a blackout on television coverage of his critics, after several TV channels were briefly taken off-air and opposition protests and news conferences were unreported.
Khan denies censoring the media, describing such accusations as “a joke” during a visit to Washington this month, but relations with the press and broadcasters have become increasingly strained since he took office nearly a year ago.
Fuelling the criticism, as Khan headed back from the US last Wednesday a news conference by Opposition leader Maryam Nawaz, which would normally be carried live on TV news stations, went unseen as broadcasters held back from coverage.
“Pakistan’s media is facing the worst censorship,” Nawaz told the news conference, which was broadcast on YouTube. “If any news channel tries to air our presser or rallies, it is threatened to go off air.”
Media managers were reluctant to comment publicly when contacted by Reuters, but statements from industry bodies have complained about pressure on journalists and their employers.
News groups have also been alarmed by proposals to establish special courts to hear cases relating to the media. The All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS) described the proposal as institutionalised “arm-twisting”.
“The media is already braving strong pressures in the form of press advices and measures of intimidation from ruling quarters which are tantamount to undeclared censorship,” it said.
Khan’s government dismisses the criticism and says it is dealing with the consequences of abuses by past administrations, who it says used lucrative government advertising business to buy favourable coverage.
His Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) party earlier this month posted a series of tweets warning media houses and journalists that they should not“end up propagating (the) enemy's stance” in criticising the government.
Three other TV channels, 24 News, AbbTakk News and Capital TV, were shut down for one day after they gave Maryam Nawaz live coverage earlier this month.
“I was informed by management that they received instructions this couldn’t be carried,” said Najam Sethi, a 24 News anchor, who had scheduled an interview with Maryam.
“We, media owners and journalists alike, are in a state of siege. Pressure to control, manipulate, plant, tilt, block and propagate the news and analysis cycle comes from overt and covert civil-military platforms. Big brother isn’t just watching anymore. He is cracking the whip and it’s painful.” Ansar Naqvi, the station’s director programming and current affairs, said Sethi was asked not to conduct the interview in line with a request from the country’s broadcasting regulator.
“We have verbal instructions from the regulator to ban Maryam’s coverage completely,” he told Reuters, adding that there was no written directive.