Media freedom sinking ahead of elections

Media freedom sinking ahead of elections

Pakistan is currently suffering from political instability and uncertainty which has increased the political environment and polarization. Unfortunately, this has resulted in attacks on media protection and press freedom in the country.

Political polarization and uncertainty affect media protection in Pakistan. State-level media bans continue unabated. The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) is acting more as a media censor than a regulator. Ahead of general elections, where free flow of information and access to information are crucial, such actions by PEMRA undermine the role of the media.

Pakistani media has directly felt the effects of political upheaval through physical assaults, cases filed, arrests of journalists, rhetoric used to attack critical journalists, and state-imposed regulations.

In the past year 2023, the climate of partisan politics has put the media under attack, resulting in at least 72 recorded incidents of physical attacks on journalists and media professionals, including two cases of murder of journalists, 62 cases of injury, three cases of kidnapping. There are three incidents of raids and two incidents of detention. Journalists were threatened in at least 20 incidents and online trolling, harassment and abuse of journalists continued.

Journalists have also faced arrests for their work, including anchorperson Imran Riaz Khan, who was arrested twice in the past year and a half, and Bol News journalist Shahid Aslam, who was arrested for reporting on a former army chief. He was arrested for leaking information.

The arrest of Shahid Aslam, the demand for his password and the confiscation of his electronic devices are a direct violation of his ability to do his work independently, indicative of a culture where laws protecting journalists can be openly violated. Similarly, the head of ARY News, Imad Yusuf, was arrested without a warrant and his privacy rights were violated. These incidents show the need for better protection of journalists in Pakistan

As the political temperature rose, there were many rallies and demonstrations. As the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) protested against the removal of its founding chairman Imran Khan from the post of Prime Minister of the country, the media was subjected to harassment and physical attacks on these occasions. In April and May 2022, several journalists were injured and DSNG vans of various networks were damaged.

Meanwhile, political rhetoric by leaders of Pakistan’s two main political parties – the PTI and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) – has sought to further discredit journalists. Political figures justify trolling, harassing, and defaming media professionals by making baseless or unverified allegations.

Former Prime Minister Imran Khan had described some journalists as mafia and blackmailers during his rule. Such unsubstantiated claims by the country’s top leadership are dangerous and fuel the fire against the media, which is already under attack.

PML-N vice-president Maryam Nawaz has come clean about her behavior on several occasions, such as removing the microphone of ARY News during a press conference or re-sharing a brutal tweet after Arshad Sharif’s murder.

Journalist Hamid Mir said that “apparently, the statistics of killing of journalists in Pakistan seems to be decreasing, but unannounced censorship has increased a lot. All the major channels of Pakistan are the main leaders of the opposition.” Neither a picture of Imran Khan nor any old video of him can be shown, even if the host of a program wants to criticize Imran Khan and play an old clip of him, it is also banned.

Hamid Mir added that, “no written order has been issued by the Pakistan Media Regulatory Authority for this purpose. Such orders are given only through telephones. Therefore, Pakistan is currently an unannounced censorship and is a living example of it.”

“Political instability in Pakistan has had a very bad impact on journalists. Many television anchors have had their programs suspended. Some social media activists have disappeared. Imran Riaz Khan was arrested in Sialkot. He was absent for months, but when he came back, he could not even speak properly. Apart from this, many journalists have left Pakistan and gone to foreign countries. I think 2023 was a very bad year for journalism in Pakistan.”

He said that “freedom of the press is subject to the independence of the parliament and the judiciary. If the parliament is strong and the judiciary is independent, then the media also gets power from there and its independence is protected. But in 2023, our parliament kept passing bills against press freedom.

“The government coming after February 8 will be very powerless. After the elections, political instability will increase in the country. During this time, the risks for Pakistani media will increase.”

As for PEMRA, it appears to be acting as a censor board rather than a media regulator. Its disciplinary action includes closure of channels. 2022 saw cancellation of licences, closure of channels and issuance of show cause notices. ARY News and Bol News have witnessed several incidents where transmission has been disrupted, as well as state-ordered shutdowns.

In August 2022, the government canceled ARY’s NOC, after which the television channel was suspended from broadcasting news. The move came just days after the channel was suspended across the country and ARY staff were arrested and cases were registered against them.

On September 5, 2022, Pemra had announced to stop broadcasting Bol News and Bol Entertainment due to lack of security clearance from the Ministry of Interior. These closures were repeated once in 2023. Both ARY News and Bol News faced shutdown in March.

PEMRA, on March 5, 2023, suspended the broadcast of ARY for airing clips of former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s speeches despite a ban order. Bol News was blocked on March 18 after it continued to broadcast proceedings at the judicial complex during the appearance of former prime minister Imran Khan despite a ban order.

With general elections expected next month, the impact of political polarization on media safety and press freedom is of grave concern. While the media’s role in reporting independently is always important, in times of political transition, especially elections, strict reporting and accountability are required. The media should be able to report on important developments in the country without fear of reprisals, including physical attacks, threats or legal action, state-mandated bans or the use of political rhetoric focused on character assassination.

The Election Commission has issued a 17-point code of conduct for national media (electronic, print, social media):

1: During the election campaign, the national media will not broadcast any news against Pakistan’s ideas, sovereignty and security.

2: The national media shall not reflect biased opinions against the independence and integrity of the judiciary and other national institutions.

3: Statements or accusations that threaten national unity, law and order situation will not be broadcast.

4: No content shall be included which is a personal attack on any candidate, political party on the basis of religion, community. Legal action will be taken for violation.

5: The allegation of one candidate against the other candidate shall be stated and confirmed by both sides.

6: Cyber ​​Digital Wing of PEMRA, PTA, PID, Ministry of Information will monitor coverage given to political parties and candidates.

7: Will give details of payment on behalf of candidate and political parties within 10 days of polling day.

8: PEMRA, PTA, PID, Cyber ​​Digital Wing of the Ministry of Information will assist the Election Commission to implement the Code of Conduct.

9: Government and law enforcement agencies will provide protection to media representatives and households.

10: Campaigns of any political party or candidate will not be run from the national treasury, voter awareness programs will be run.

11: The election media campaign will be terminated 48 hours before the election day, the election process will not be obstructed.

12: Entry-exit polls, polling station or polling in the constituency will be avoided which may affect the voter.

13: Only accredited media representatives will enter the polling station once with a camera to video the polling process.

14: Video making of secret ballot will not be allowed, media representatives will observe the counting without cameras.

15: Media representatives will not interfere before, during or after the election. The result will not be broadcast until one hour after the end of polling.

16: While publishing the results it will be mentioned that these are unofficial, incomplete results which are not considered final until declared by the RO.

17: The accreditation of a journalist or media organization can be terminated for violating the code of conduct.

Co-Chairman Human Rights Commission Munizae Jahangir has expressed concern about the election environment in the country and said that “the election environment is being destroyed, a party is being broken and prevented from elections under a plan. It is surprising.”

She added: “Papers of candidates belonging to banned organizations are being accepted and papers of candidates of one party are being rejected. Transparency has to be ensured to maintain the credibility of the elections. This attitude has been maintained with different political parties. Various political workers have disappeared. We saw them only when they held press conferences to quit the party.”

On the other hand, the Election Commission has written a letter to Chairman PEMRA for violating the code of conduct. In the letter written by the Election Commission, it is said that despite the media ban, the election survey is being conducted which is against the rules. The letter said that the media has been prevented from conducting surveys and polls from polling stations and constituencies. These activities amount to influencing the voter. Conducting surveys is prohibited under the code of conduct issued for the media. The letter demanded that Pemra take immediate action against such channels and submit a report.

On this, senior journalist and analyst Nusrat Javed has said that, “we conducted surveys in many constituencies but never said that such and such a candidate is winning from this constituency with such a percentage of votes.”

He added, “this is a reflection of the political trend of the people. If journalists cannot reflect the political trend of the people in a constituency, what are we sitting here to do? We are sitting to tell what the Election Commission ate today? All this is to further damage our reputation but those who issued this letter should have at least read this letter themselves.”

Observers reiterate that the media is being pressured to give maximum space to the Muslim League-N. It is being said that increasing restrictions on the media are being imposed mainly to benefit one political party and harm another. Several human rights organizations believe that PEMRA is acting on the signals of powers that be.


Previous Post Next Post
Disclaimer: This news appearing on Yazh News Media has been auto-published from an agency feed without any modifications to the text and has not been reviewed by an editor. For further clarification contact us on Email.