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Media censorship rises as the general elections draw near in Pakistan

Image via Pixabay by user dimitrisvetsikas1969 | CC0

Pakistan is gearing up for the general elections scheduled next week and there are rumors of a massive crackdown on the media.

On July 12, 2018, Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) imposed a ban on national satellite television channels for airing live speeches of politicians as they conduct their election campaigns.

The ban was imposed to prevent satellite TV channels from displaying “derogatory” and “defamatory” content. The notification stated:

Satellite tv channels must ensure that no hateful, defamatory, malicious, and derogatory content/speech/press conference/paid political advertisement is aired, broadcast or televised in any manner, live or recorded, which may likely undermine the sanctity of judiciary, armed forces of Pakistan, other institutions, individuals, political parties and the electoral process.

 

The speeches of the former prime minister Nawaz Sharif were censored from television and radio networks as he arrived in Pakistan to challenge a court verdict against him and his daughter, which found them guilty of corruption. The ban technically does not extend to online reporting, but election speeches have been censored online as well.

Although Sharif is not running for re-election, there are candidates in the running from his party, the PML-N, including his wife. Pakistan's military establishment is known to favor the opposing party, PTI.

Many journalists see the ban as an attack on freedom of expression. Journalist Tanzeela Mazhar tweeted:

Note: MNS is Nawaz Sharif

Another journalist, Matiullah Jan, tweeted:

Some said the ban was justified, given that Sharif was convicted of corruption by the Accountability Court of Pakistan. Dr. M Siddique tweeted:

Note: NAB = National Accountability Bureau

Some even believed that the ban empowered the Sharif family, by rallying supporters against the ban. Youth Activist, Ameeza Zia posted to Twitter:

Note: Sheraya sheraya means “The lion comes, the lion comes” (The electoral symbol of Nawaz Sharif is a lion)

Others have speculated that there is military involvement in the ban.

BBC, Deutsche Welle, and Voice of America coverages of Pakistan's general elections were banned from airing as a result. Krzysztof Iwanek, a Polish writer posted:

Pakistani entrepreneur Sareer Ahmad Khan described it as the “worst kind of censorship”.

Pakistani news channels also did not broadcast pre-recorded interviews of Sharif.

Other political parties say they have become victims of the ban as well. Pakistan People's Party Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said in a press conference:

The press is facing censorship, political activists are being detained, and this is not only a violation of human rights but also pre-poll rigging.

An amendment in Article 5 of the PEMRA ordinance has now become a point of the question. According to this article, the government does not have the right to impose directives related to content being broadcast. PEMRA is an independent federal institution, yet its activities may be politically motivated.

A history of censorship

Pakistan has a long history of censorship as news outlets have faced bans and other types of punishment, in what appears to be an effort to control public narrative. Journalists have not only faced hate speech but have been threatened, abducted and even assassinated. In this environment, are free and fair elections possible?

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