The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has called on Pakistani authorities to stop withholding government advertisements to the Dawn and Jang media groups and grant ads to media outlets "without regard for their editorial stances".
Citing news reports and information from the All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS), CPJ noted in a statement on Monday that the federal government and governments of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab have suspended the practice of placing advertisements with the two media groups since January.
“The Pakistani government’s selective ban on placing advertisements with Dawn and Jang, two prominent and independent news organisations, amounts to a crude form of retaliation,” said Steven Butler, CPJ’s Asia programme coordinator. “Using government advertising as a cudgel to punish and reward news outlets based on their editorial stance in this way is incompatible with Pakistan’s constitutional guarantee of press freedom and must come to an end immediately.”
CPJ, an independent organisation working to promote press freedom worldwide, while quoting news reports said that Prime Minister Imran Khan in a speech last month had singled out the Dawn and Jang media groups, accusing them of “publishing false stories” that allegedly misrepresented his statements and his official visit to China.
CPJ said it did not immediately receive a response to its email seeking comment from the Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunications.
The watchdog said it has previously documented "repeated attacks and restrictions" on the two news groups, including in a September 2018 special report on Pakistan titled “Acts of Intimidation: In Pakistan, journalists' fear and censorship grow even as fatal violence declines”.
The APNS had also condemned the ban on ads to Dawn and Jang media groups, saying it represented the use of "advertisements as a lever to influence the editorial policy of news organisations" and that it was aimed at "silencing any dissenting voices in the media".
The Pakistan Herald Publications (Pvt) Limited — the parent company that owns Dawn — had last week filed a petition in the Sindh High Court (SHC) challenging the withholding of advertisements by the federal government from the daily.
The petition stated that by withholding ads, "Dawn is being punished for the views and reports that it has published in its various editions as these views and reports do not conform to the views and opinions held by [...] the highest functionaries of the federal government.
"The withholding/banning of advertisements is an attempt to muzzle Dawn in the exercise of its fundamental right of freedom of the press," the plea added.