Wednesday July 17, 2024

‘Press freedom predators gallery’: Pakistan strongly rebuts RSF report

By News Desk
July 07, 2021
‘Press freedom predators gallery’: Pakistan strongly rebuts RSF report

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Tuesday vehemently rejected an international media watchdog’s report that lists Prime Minister Imran Khan on a list of the world’s 37 worst rulers when it comes to press freedom.

The Foreign Ministry said in a statement that It is quite surprising that RSF has jumped to the conclusion that media in Pakistan is under “increasingly draconian censorship measures by Imran Khan’s government”, despite the fact that the current government has been taking all possible measures to create a congenial environment for journalists to perform their professional obligations.

“The fact of the matter is that Pakistan has a vibrant media landscape. The liberal media policy of the government has resulted in exponential media growth. The country has 43 international media channels, 112 private TV channels, 258 FM channels and 1,569 publications. The size of the media speaks volumes about the robustness of the media in Pakistan,” it said.

Contrary to the RSF’s report the government does not believe in issuing press advice. Rather, it encourages self-regulation by the media. Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government believes in the freedom of expression and media independence which is evident from the unanimous approval of the Journalist Protection Bill by the cabinet which would go a long way in ensuring the safety and security of the journalist community. The Constitution of Pakistan itself guarantees the freedom of expression through Article 19 and 19-A. In addition to this, the federal government promulgated the Right of Access to Information Act, 2017 which ensures that every citizen shall have the right of access to information in all matters of public importance.

“Furthermore, the reference to the ‘deep state’ is misplaced. All the institutions of Pakistan are working in cohesion and at the same time guarding their own independence and autonomy. As far as the prime minister is concerned, he is the elected head of government and has the resounding support of the people of Pakistan. The level of criticism that is faced by the government and the military is unheard of even in the developed world,” the Foreign Ministry said.

It said the insinuation that journalists choose to live abroad due to security reasons and that they have been subjected to intimidation and attacks even in the countries where they choose to live, is nothing but ludicrous. Is the security of people outside Pakistan, also a responsibility of the Pakistani government?

“The claim that troll armies harass and vilify all journalists and bloggers who criticize the ruling government, is far from the truth. The fact of the matter is that the government uses fake news busters to tackle misinformation/disinformation in order to quash fake news. This practice is in complete consonance with the universal ethics of responsible journalism,” it said.

The statement said there have been several instances in which unverified news about Pakistan made it to the headlines in foreign print and electronic media, causing significantly irreparable damage to the repute of the country. “Case in point is the recent news story published in a well-known British newspaper about the sexual assault of a young woman of Pakistan origin, after returning from the UK, to attend her father’s funeral. The police investigation confirmed later that she had never travelled to the UK and the reported accused was actually her husband,” said the statement.

“It appears that the report that RSF has issued is an attempt to malign the elected representative of the people of Pakistan, without any corroborative evidence. It is hoped that in future RSF will avoid such irresponsible journalism,” it added.

The angry reaction from the government came in response to a Monday report titled: “Press freedom predators gallery — old tyrants, two women and a European,” released by Paris-based Reporters Without Borders.

According to the group, the “cases of brazen censorship are legion since Khan became prime minister” following parliamentary elections in 2018. It said during Khan’s rule, the distribution of newspapers was interrupted, media outlets were threatened with withdrawal of advertising and TV channel signals were jammed.

“Journalists who cross the red lines have been threatened, abducted and tortured,” the media watchdog said.

The RSF reported it was publishing a gallery of grim portraits, those of 37 heads of state or government who crack down massively on press freedom. Some of these “predators of press freedom” have been operating for more than two decades while others have just joined the blacklist, which for the first time includes two women and a European predator.

Nearly half (17) of the predators are making their first appearance on the 2021 list, which RSF is publishing five years after the last one, from 2016. All are heads of state or government who trample on press freedom by creating a censorship apparatus, jailing journalists arbitrarily or inciting violence against them, when they don’t have blood on their hands because they have directly or indirectly pushed for journalists to be murdered.

Nineteen of these predators rule countries that are coloured red on the RSF’s press freedom map, meaning their situation is classified as “bad” for journalism, and 16 rule countries coloured black, meaning the situation is “very bad.” The average age of the predators is 66. More than a third (13) of these tyrants come from the Asia-Pacific region.

“There are now 37 leaders from around the world in RSF’s predators of press freedom gallery and no one could say this list is exhaustive,” RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said. “Each of these predators has their own style. Some impose a reign of terror by issuing irrational and paranoid orders. Others adopt a carefully constructed strategy based on draconian laws. A major challenge now is for these predators to pay the highest possible price for their oppressive behaviour. We must not let their methods become the new normal.”

The RSF said the most notable of the list’s new entrants is undoubtedly Saudi Arabia’s 35-year-old crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, who is the centre of all power in his hands and heads a monarchy that tolerates no press freedom. The new entrants also include predators of a very different nature such as Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, whose aggressive and crude rhetoric about the media has reached new heights since the start of the pandemic, and a European prime minister, Hungary’s Viktor Orbán, the self-proclaimed champion of “illiberal democracy” who has steadily and effectively undermined media pluralism and independence since being returned to power in 2010.

The first two women predators are both from Asia. One is Carrie Lam, who heads a government that was still democratic when she took over. The chief executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region since 2017, Lam has proved to be the puppet of Chinese President Xi Jinping, and now openly supports his predatory policies towards the media. They led to the closure of Hong Kong’s leading independent newspaper, Apple Daily, on 24 June and the jailing of its founder, Jimmy Lai, a 2020 RSF Press Freedom laureate.

The other woman predator is Sheikh Hasina, Bangladesh’s prime minister since 2009. Her predatory exploits include the adoption of a digital security law in 2018 that has led to more than 70 journalists and bloggers being prosecuted.

Some of the predators have been on this list since RSF began compiling it 20 years ago. Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad and Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran’s Islamic Revolution, were on the very first list, as were two leaders from the Eastern Europe and Central Asia region, Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Belarus’s Alexander Lukashenko, whose recent predatory inventiveness has won him even more notoriety. In all, seven of the 37 leaders on the latest list have retained their places since the first list RSF published in 2001.

RSF published a list of Digital Press Freedom Predators in 2020 and plans to publish a list of non-state predators before the end of 2021. Minister for Information and Broadcasting Fawad Chaudhry said in his reaction that a conspiracy was being hatched to ban freedom of expression in Pakistan. The minister tweeted that a specific group is part of this propaganda to bring Pakistan into the FATF and other such regulatory networks.

“Fake groups start news from outside: a certain group in Pakistan knowing or without knowing, forwards this narrative,” the minister said. The PMLN information secretary Marriyum Aurangzeb claimed that the latest report of the Reporters Without Borders is a charge-sheet against the PTI government.

In a statement, she said Imran Khan’s alleged “authoritarian attitude” and character was defiling Pakistan’s image abroad. Marriyum Aurangzeb said the global community had unequivocally condemned the government’s suppression of the freedom of expression.

“The report says that the PTI government is worse than military dictatorships in Pakistan when it comes to press freedom. The Human Rights Watch, Pakistan Press Freedom Report and Freedom Network Report had already declared the Imran Khan government as the worst media gagging administration in the history of the country,” she said.