August 5, 2021
By Rehan Piracha
Senior journalists as well as those from Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) have strongly reacted to claims made by the Federal Information Minister Fawad Chaudhary, of ‘exposing certain journalists’, who according to him, have been involved in a campaign on social media against Pakistan. The journalists while condemning the statement said that these claims of a list of ‘anti-state journalists’ was nothing new in the country’s history, and demanded the information minister to back his remarks with credible evidence.
In an interview with a news channel, Chaudhary had claimed that he would name media persons who were part of the anti-Pakistan campaign on social media.
“I’ll have a press conference soon and name the media persons who are part of the ‘anti-Pakistan campaign’ on social media,” he said. However, the minister did not mention that he had any evidence to back his claims. He also took offence on the concerns raised over the proposed Pakistan Media Regulatory Authority (PMDA) bill.
“A campaign was launched against the proposed PMDA bill even before it was tabled,” he said in the interview. In the same interview, Fawad Chaudhary also stated that he had asked the German ambassador to refrain from expressing concerns over freedom of expression in Pakistan as Islamabad had exercised restraint on hundreds of cases of Islamophobia in Germany.
Muzzling the press since Independence: Husain Naqi
Veteran journalist Husain Naqi said that the federal information minister was part of a bandwagon of former ministers that have tried to muzzle press freedom since the inception of Pakistan only to please their dictatorial masters. “Media’s struggle for freedom is also part of the struggle for freedom of expression and thought in the country,” he said. “Ayub Khan became party to Pakistan’s dismemberment! Ziaul Haq’s information crony peddled his master as a ‘righteous amir ul momineen’. A Niazi mullah led Zulfikar Bhutto to the gallows! And now a Niazi has chosen a Chaudhry to be his tormentor,” Naqi said.
No list of anti-state journalists anywhere: Nasim Zehra
Likewise, senior journalist Nasim Zehra also said that the claim of the Information Minister Fawad Chaudhary about exposing some media persons involved in a so-called ‘anti-Pakistan campaign’ was nothing new.
“For decades, successive information ministers and others in the governments have been claiming that they have a list of journalists who are anti-Pakistan or getting money from abroad but till today no such list of journalists, backed with concrete evidence, has been shared,” she said.
Zehra pointed out that journalists have the right to express their opinions and if the government did not agree with them it could present its stance.
On the other hand, she said, the government should bring out evidence in case a columnist or an opinion maker is trying to present incorrect information as facts. “Then by all means, the government should bring proof and say this person is saying something incorrect or which has no factual basis. That’s the way to proceed if you are interested in discourse in society based on facts and informed opinion,” she said.
Zehra added that if the government was interested in countering everything that it did not agree with, by labelling detractors as ‘anti-Pakistan’ and accusing them of promoting lies or being allied with ‘adversarial enemies’, that would be considered non-serious stuff and propaganda. “Such remarks do not help either with the credibility of anybody saying it or with the security of the country, ” she added.
Fawad should have backed remarks with evidence: Asha’ar Rehman
According to senior journalist Asha’ar Rehman, the federal information minister should bring proof of any journalists involved in this ‘anti-Pakistan campaign’ on social media as per the norms of fair journalism.
“Firstly, he should have mentioned names and evidence if any, on the basis of which he was making these claims otherwise it would amount to previous threats and will end up having no substance,” he said.
Rehman said that the government might have objections to the working of certain journalists but labelling them as anti-Pakistan was a grave matter. He said that the information minister looked quite worried in the interview, and that perhaps Fawad Chaudhary needed to exercise caution as a representative of the government, referring to the talk about the meeting with the German ambassador and security threats to the prime minister.
The former resident editor of Dawn said that journalists were justified in voicing their concerns about the proposed PMDA bill. “The journalists had to resist the proposed law before and not after it was implemented,” he said.
Rehman said it was unfortunate to see Fawad Chaudhary, who is generally considered as a forward looking and liberal individual, making such remarks about journalists because of his government position and party politics. “It is unfortunate that Fawad Chaudhary who took a stance on moon sighting is now making unfounded claims about journalists,” he said.
Wrong of govt to call journalists traitors: Shahzada Zulfiqar
Shahzada Zulfiqar, president of PFUJ, said the statement from the information minister showed that the government ministers thought all others as traitors except themselves.
“The role of the media is to criticise government actions that are against the interests or benefit of the people,” he said. He said it was wrong on the part of the government to label certain journalists as traitors who were critical of the government. “The PFUJ will certainly defend and side with journalists unfairly targeted by the government,” he added.
Zulfiqar termed Fawad Chaudhary remarks about the outcry on the proposed bill on Pakistan Media Regulatory Authority as unjustified in a democratic society. “In dictatorial societies, we see hymns and praises of the government while in democratic societies we witness criticism of the government,” he added.
Referring to the meeting with the German ambassador, Zulfiqar said the international community was monitoring curbs on the freedom of expression and media censorship in the country. “The assailants of the attacks on journalists have not been arrested yet and the PFUJ would welcome it if all government agencies cooperate in this regard,” he said.
The PFUJ said his organization and journalists did not support individuals working involved in anti-state activities. “If the government has proof against any such individual it should act against him under the law of the country,” he said.