ISLAMABAD: The year 2019 was tough for media and journalists as not only efforts were made to gag the media but also seven journalists were killed and many others came under attacks and injured.
Rights activists and politicians were forced off the air on TV channels. Around one million websites were blocked, according to a report prepared by an NGO.
The review of legislative, legal and judicial developments on freedom of expression, right to information and digital rights showed the government onslaught on civil liberties had employed a combination of conservative policy proposals and liberal administrative overreaches.
The annual report, Coercive Censorship, Muted Dissent: Pakistan Descends into Silence, was unveiled by the Institute for Research, Advocacy and Development (IRADA) on Saturday.
The conservative policy proposals include a major attempt to merge all media regulators into a single centralised entity, Pakistan Media Regulatory Authority (PMRA), which was thwarted through the joint efforts of the public, the media and civil society.
The study said that throughout the year, the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) remained busy in issuing “advisories, directives, and show cause” notices to private television channels.
There remained in place not only a de facto ban on live coverage of press conferences by opposition party leaders but also any kind of coverage by civil rights groups such as Awami Workers Party.
Moreover, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), using powers under Section 37 of the PECA 2016, blocked more than 900,000 websites for reasons such as “carrying blasphemous and pornographic content or sentiments against the state, judiciary and the armed forces”, it claims.
The report further states that interviews of the senior leadership of several opposition parties were forced off the air on various TV channels.
The report notes that at least seven journalists were killed during the year while many others were attacked and injured. Some faced legal cases brought on by the authorities.
The Executive Director of IRADA, Muhammad Aftab Alam, while talking to Dawn, said that “throughout the year, the Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf government remained consistently focused on shackling both the mainstream media and social media reflecting dictatorial tendencies and authoritarian attitudes indicating that the government did not brook criticism of any kind from any medium”.
Mr Alam further said “the experiences of 2019 showed a consistent worsening of the media legal environment that encompasses the freedom of expression and access to information domains, indicating that 2020 is all set to become even a worse year”.
Published in Dawn, February 24th, 2020