September 28th, 2020
The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) has expressed serious ‘concern over torture, abduction, and arrest of journalists, as well as unannounced censorship through financial curbs on media houses, threats to owners and journalists by anti-media forces to compel them to toe the official line or face government’s wrath’.
In a declaration issued by the PFUJ’s federal executive council (FEC), the journalists’ body accused the Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government led by Prime Minister Imran Khan of being directly responsible for the current crises in the media industry.
The declaration observed that a systematic war had been launched by the government and anti-media forces to curb the freedom of expression, which is embedded in the 1973 Constitution.
The very first action of the Imran-led government was to put a financial squeeze on the media industry by bringing into question the arrears that it owed to the media and withholding their payment, the declaration pointed out. The move subsequently affected working journalists.
“Along with the financial squeeze, the government has started micro-managing the media with media advice, some openly and many through clandestine telephone calls, increasing the list of red-lines that the media is arm-twisted not to cross, forcing the media to resort to self-censorship of a kind never before forced on it in the past, even during military rule,” the declaration said.
The FEC demanded that the government immediately abandon all anti-media policies and sit with representatives of the media industry — PFUJ, CPNE, APNS, PBA, and civil society, including HRCP and PBC — to discuss the matter holistically and reach an accord to guarantee media freedom as per the ruling party’s own manifesto.
The FEC also expressed its serious concern over blind abductions of journalists from the federal capital and rest of the country and arrest of the chief editor of the country’s largest media group, Mir Shakil-ur-Rehman, in a case pertaining to land purchase more than 30 years ago. Besides, “the continuous attempts by the government to amend the relevant rules and regulations and to write fresh black laws to bring the social media under its full control” were condemned by the journalists’ fraternity in the strongest terms.
The FEC denounced the practice of launching “shady radio stations and TV channels”. The declaration also strongly condemned the rising trend of trolling and harassment of female journalists and TV anchorpersons by unknown troll groups pretending to be above the state agents. It demanded the safety of journalists, media workers, and regional media outlets in all the provinces.
Asking the government to rationalize advertisement rates, the FEC demanded that the government clear Rs6 billion arrears pending with the Ministry of Information.
Speaking to Voicepk.net, Shahzada Zulfiqar, President of PFUJ, said a committee has been formed to monitor and pursue cases of journalists facing threats and intimidation. The committee was initially formed to look into the abduction of senior journalist Matiullah Jan, he said, adding that the committee’s scope has been broadened to include all other journalists.
Zulfiqar said the PFUJ had earlier expressed concern over reports of FIA lodging cases against journalists and media activists, adding that the body has reliable information of attempts being made to file cases against journalists and media activists under the cybercrimes law.
Zulfiqar called the delay in payment of arrears to news outlets as an arms-twisting tactic of the government. He said it was wrong to suggest that the media industry in the country was too dependent on revenues from government advertisements. The PFUJ president said successive governments had always cleared payments of advertisements made during the tenure of the preceding government. The delay in payments on part of the present government led to the financial crunch in the media industry, he added.