Media freedom in Pakistan is seeing dark times, says panel – Newspaper

LONDON: Freedom of the press in Pakistan is the worst today than ever before, panelists said in a talk about censorship at the Khalili Lecture Theater (KLT) at SOAS on Friday.

The talk entitled "Reign of censorship: Pakistan, Kashmir and India" featured journalist Talat Hussain, writer and scholar Farzana Sheikh, British journalist Christina Lamb and former Dawn columnist Cyril Almeida.

The two-hour discussion focused largely on the history of censorship in Pakistan and the gradual sophistication of the tools used to silence journalists.

Professor Sheikh recalled a question asked Prime Minister Imran Khan about media freedom in Pakistan during his recent trip to Washington, which he dismissed as a joke and added that the Pakistani media are freer than those in the United Kingdom.

“In doing so, Khan spoke on behalf of many of his peers in charge of increasingly authoritarian governments in South Asia. However, despite all its arrogance, much of the evidence contradicts Khan's claims, "he said, citing a report from Reporters Without Borders in 2019 that states that censorship in Pakistan today is comparable to the Zia era.

Professor Sheikh spoke of the most recent interruption of the exhibition of the artist Adeela Suleman representing extrajudicial executions at the Karachi Biennial, and used it as an example of how even artistic expression is suffocating.

He also shared that accusations of blasphemy are increasingly used to silence dissent. Lamb, who also co-authored "I Am Malala," drew attention to the worrying and growing trend of censorship in India, where the government recently eliminated the citizenship of journalist Aatish Taseer after criticizing the Modi regime in an article by Time.

“One of the things that surprised me is that of journalists killed around the world, the number from India is disturbing. I didn't expect this because I still had the image that India was a place with robust means, "said Lamb.

He also cited how to close the Internet in occupied Kashmir is again a demonstration of how the Indian state is actively nullifying freedom of expression.

Returning to Pakistan, Ms. Lamb said she was recently in the country when she witnessed a broadcasting journalist who said she was asked not to give a speech delivered by Maulana Fazlur Rehman before the dharna. "I am not sure what Imran Khan means when he says that Pakistan's media is freer because such things do not happen here [in the UK]. "

He also said that blacklisting Stephen Butler of the Committee to Protect Journalists from entering Pakistan to participate in the Asma Jehanhir conference was evidence of blatant censorship.

"If you are trying to prove that you have freedom of means, that is not a very good way to do it."

Almeida began his talk by giving credit to what he said are "the brave journalists who bring us information about Kashmir."

On Pakistan, he painted a bleak future. “Censorship will not improve in Pakistan. The two questions now are: how much it will get worse and how fast it will happen. ”

He unzipped a popular belief in Pakistan about the liberal approach of the media removed from General Pervez Musharraf, and said Musharraf's incentive to allow private media to prosper comes from the propaganda of the Indian government through its private channels during Kargil and the attack on the Indian parliament. “If you watch these episodes in India, you see the recently resurrected private media that were able to gather national sentiment in a way that Indian state channels could not do. On our side, they saw how India mobilized its population effectively. Then they hoped to do the same. It was not altruism that led Musharraf to do this. ”

Hussain highlighted the least discussed issue of self-censorship in media organizations.

“Nobody talks about what the owners do to direct censorship to journalists. It has nothing to do with the state censorship of journalism. It has to do with who [media owners] like who finances them and who are their favorites. More than the state of Pakistan, Malik Riaz is the one who controls 9/10 of media coverage. Its ability to influence coverage is enormous. "

Posted in Dawn, November 10, 2019



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