Pakistani military stifling press: CJP

INTERVENTION::Geo News in April said the military told it to stop reporting on the alleged military involvement in the ouster of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif


Thu, Sep 13, 2018 - Page 5

Pakistan’s military is using fear and intimidation to stifle the media and undermine press freedom even as overall violence against reporters has fallen, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CJP) said yesterday.

The press freedom group said the military has established “lines of control” to pressure the media and journalists who push back or are overly critical.

“The military has quietly, but effectively, set restrictions on reporting: from barring access to regions ... to encouraging self-censorship through direct and indirect methods of intimidation, including ... allegedly instigating violence against reporters,” the CPJ said in a report.

The military routinely denies interference in politics or with the media.

Its information wing could not be reached for comment by telephone nor did it respond to text messages seeking comment on the report.

Pakistani Minister of Information, Broadcasting and National Heritage Fawad Chaudhry said no media complaints about intimidation had been lodged with his ministry, but if they were, they would be investigated.

The CPJ spoke to various journalists and media organizations for its report, including Geo News, Pakistan’s most popular TV news channel.

In April, in the buildup to a general election, cable distributors stopped distributing Geo’s programming, cutting off about 80 percent of households.

At the time, two sources at the broadcaster said the military had told it to refrain from reporting on various topics, including alleged military involvement in the ouster of former Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif.

The Pakistani Supreme Court forced Sharif from office in July last year over his failure to declare some income.

The CPJ said that while it was hard to document who made the order restricting Geo’s distribution and for what reason, the broadcaster was known to have had disputes with the authorities.

“Geo News’ clashes with authorities started well before April 2018 and exemplify the divide between some media houses and the military ... [and] the growing use of indirect tactics to impose censorship, and the rise of self-censorship,” it said.

Similarly, the English-language Dawn newspaper has seen its circulation blocked in some places, which the paper’s editor said pointed to military intervention.

“They’re clearly not happy with Dawn’s policies, they want Dawn to stay away from certain subjects,” editor Zaffar Abbas said, adding that non-compliance was met with circulation blockages and cuts in advertising by enterprises linked to the military. “Some papers are unable to take those pressures.”

The CPJ said military success against militants over the past few years had slashed the number of journalists being killed, but at the same time, several reporters had been attacked by unidentified people after publishing reports critical of the military.

“People in the military and sometimes in government have discovered that there are indirect ways of putting influence on the press,” said CPJ Asia coordinator Steven Butler, who wrote the report.

A handful of unexplained abduction and assault cases served as a reminder, he said.

“The threat of violence is there,” Butler said.