Government crackdown on media stifles freedom of speech

Crackdown on the print and electronic media in Pakistan started with the judiciary putting a media ban on Altaf Hussain, the founder of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement.

After Altaf Hussain, the judiciary banned reporting speeches of the former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his daughter, Maryam Nawaz before Elections 2018, a well-planned action taken to silence the head of the ruling party.

Dawn’s journalists and anchorpersons who don’t bend to whim of the government have faced similar bans. The paper isn’t allowed to be sold in specific parts of country. A treason case was filed against the paper’s journalist, Cyril Almeida, for Dawn Leaks, a news story that alleged confrontation between the civilian government and the military at a meeting in October 2016.

Almeida’s columns are now missing, and he’s been sent on a “break.”

The government has decided to control media groups by putting financial strains on them by blocking government advertisements. Media houses that employ anchorpersons with controversial opinions don’t get any government advertisements or contracts, which are a substantial part of their income, forcing them to sack controversial anchorpersons.

Matiullah Jan, for example, known for criticizing the “deep state” and highlighted as “anti-state” during a press conference by director general of the Inter-Services Public Relations, was sacked by Waqt News TV.

“After spending six years with Waqt News TV and Nawa-i-Waqt newspaper, I have been given marching orders,” Jan said in a statement given to VOA Urdu.

Advertisements were stopped systematically for certain media groups to target them for their opinions and criticism of the establishment, Jan said.

Murtaza Solangi also lost his job with Capital TV after being involved in a spat with Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry.

Social media activists are also getting threatened to stop their activism on Twitter. Gul Bukhari, for example, went missing for 40 hours. Writer Abu Aleeha went missing for days. Activist Aadi Roy allegedly received threat calls.

Journalist Muhammad Hanif compares the current crackdown to a dictator’s era. The constraints and silencing of journalists wasn’t as bad even in Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq’s era.

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