Islamabad: An article published by a leading British newspaper has said that press freedom in Pakistan is under threat, being selectively censored by that country’s powerful military establishment, which doesn’t take kindly to criticism of its actions, or support for the civilian political class.
It is now a well known fact that in the month gone by, popular and privately-run Geo TV was taken off the air recently and could only start operations again after it reportedly reached a back door agreement with the military establishment to stop covering former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif favourably and cease to criticize the military.
Daily newspaper The News, which is owned by the Jang Group, was also a victim of the reported censorship drive, and was reportedly “ordered not to touch sensitive topics.”
According to the article, which appears in the Guardian, the media in Pakistan is so much under pressure from the military establishment these days, that it has chosen the route of self censoring any content that criticizes Pakistan’s armed forces.
The article says journalists, rights activists and analysts see this covert form of censorship of the media in Pakistan “as the army’s most powerful and sophisticated push in decades …to suppress freedom of expression and manipulate public opinion before July’s general election.”
The article in the Guardian quotes Asia-Pacific Fellow at Chatham House Dr. Farzana Shaikh, as saying that it is a well known fact that cable networks in most of Pakistan’s districts are controlled by the military, and the latter’s latest action against Geo TV and The News is indicative of its plan to decisively “control the narrative in the run-up to (the) general elections.”
The army is very keen not to allow Sharif and his supporters to highlight the fact that the military and the judiciary are jointly working against him since his ouster from office on July 28, 2017.
Sharif is travelling the length and breadth of Pakistan to voice his criticism over the military and the judiciary “micromanaging politics” to prevent his Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) from achieving a parliamentary majority.
Geo TV remained off air from March 30 to April 13, 2018 and is now gradually reappearing on screens “after what Geo executives describe as “marathon meetings” with top military officials, including the head of the military’s media wing, in which Geo agreed to cease favourable coverage of Sharif and censor any criticism of the army.”
Geo says that it won’t “completely toe the army line”, but will for the sake of survival, self-censor and tweak news coverage
The Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), which is the Pakistan Army’s media wing, has chosen not to comment on the issue, reports the Guardian.
Since 2007, the army has a tense history and relationship with Geo, with the latter often portraying the former in negative light.
There are several views that say that this selective censorship of the media could also have a major impact on the voting process in upcoming elections in Pakistan.