OVER the past couple of days, a number of cases have been registered in different parts of the country against various journalists and anchorpersons. The modus operandi and the contents of the FIRs all point to the fact that the source behind this apparently coordinated campaign is the same. Amongst the mediapersons who are facing cases is Imran Riaz Khan of Express News; a case has been filed by an individual against the anchor in Thatta on charges of incitement to mutiny, provocation with the aim of causing a riot, etc. The complainant says he had filed the case against Mr Khan after he came across an audio clip on social media in which the mediaperson had allegedly used “hateful and inciting remarks” against state institutions. Multiple cases, mostly in Sindh, have also been filed against ARY’s Arshad Sharif and Sabir Shakir, as well as Bol’s Sami Ibrahim. The contents of the FIRs against Mr Sharif largely match those filed against Mr Khan, while the complainants have accused Mr Sharif of “spreading hate” amongst institutions, particularly the military.
The charges against the mediapersons are very serious and should not be thrown around so frivolously. There are legal procedures in place that can be activated if an organisation or a mediaperson is believed to have breached the law. Campaigns such as these targeting journalists for expressing a certain point of view cannot be condoned and should be abandoned by the powers that be. In fact, the methods employed — using dubious characters in far-flung cities to register cases featuring identical charges — border on the ridiculous. While we may often not agree with the views expressed by the mediapersons in question, this paper defends their right to freedom of speech. In order to promote a genuinely democratic culture in Pakistan, a free media is essential to encouraging rational debate. And in case there are genuine issues of libel, defamation, etc., legal safeguards are in place which can be employed instead of resorting to such orchestrated campaigns.
Published in Dawn, May 24th, 2022