The Pakistani Minister for Information and Broadcasting, Fawad Chaudhry, was interviewed by the BBC’s Stephen Sackur on Friday. The interview was nothing short of a disaster for Pakistan’s image as a whole, giving even more light to the fact that the military’s rule over the country is present in every sense of the word.
“Pakistan is probably one of the freest [states] as far as media is concerned. We have about 43 international media channels … here in Pakistan; we have 112 private channels, 258 FM channels, and 1,569 print publications,” claimed the Minister, all the while seemingly reading this information off of a series of notes. Independent journalists have consistently been scrutinised by Pakistani governments for their dedication to providing unfiltered coverage of local affairs. The Reporters Without Borders organisation, dedicated to defending the right to information for all citizens, sits Pakistan starkly at #145 of 180 countries worldwide in its latest Press Freedom index rankings, placing it lower than India, Palestine, South Sudan and a number of other third-world countries. It is therefore a slap in the face to the many journalists killed in their line of work over the past few years in Pakistan for the country’s own Minister for Information to declare on international television that Pakistan harbours their local journalists and media houses with ‘pride’, or to quote the Constitution which “guarantees” protection. Just this year, a number of prominent figures in the media were gunned down, including Absar Alam and Asad Toor.
The Minister’s response to these horrific instances said it all. “These incidents happen everywhere in the world, and Pakistan is no exception.” In a classic affair of whataboutism, Mr Chaudhry pointed towards the number of civilians who had “also” been killed in “this war on terrorism”, effectively brushing off the topic as a whole.
This topic isn’t as cut-and-dry as the Minister may think it is, however. These journalists who have been killed as part of the “war on terror” may not have even been killed for such a purpose. Chaudhry was quick to defend the ISI as soon as the interview started, stating that the “western media loves to target the ISI”, but this is for good cause. Journalists who were abducted last year were told to “stop covering unwelcome stories or your [families] won’t find you alive.” Logically, this is a very pertinent area to criticise the ISI for partaking in.
Mr Chaudhry went on to apparently, quite blatantly, put to rest the rumours that the amount of attacks on journalists had decreased rapidly since the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mr Imran Khan, the celebrity-turned-politician, was elected to power in July of 2018. These are not rumours, however. The RSF continues in their report of Pakistan’s press freedom index to confirm that these had only increased, as has the influence of the deep state which hides behind the Prime Minister.
Furthermore, the value of journalism in Pakistan is quickly diminishing. Under the eyes of the government, all forms of quality, valid media coverage is reduced to just a variant of ‘yellow journalism’. This is similar to how the Republican government in the United States handled the media during the Trump era. In this interview, Fawad Chaudhry was quick to degrade distinguished journalist Talat Hussain, basically declaring that because the minister didn’t see him on television, his stature and accomplishments in his field were seemingly worthless. On Twitter, Hussain has threatened legal action against the minister for illogical defamation against him, and rightly so.
Another area of the interview which was blatantly untrue concerned the amount of votes the current Prime Minister received in 2018. If one is to go off of Mr Chaudhry’s claims, it is easy to be convinced that over two hundred million votes were cast for Mr Khan. However, through simple research on the ECP’s website, one can discover that less than seventeen million votes were cast for the current governing party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, in totality, completely refuting the minister’s claims.
It is easy to hide behind mythical facts and figures in the spur of the moment, but upon further investigation, no part of the current Pakistani government should continue to lay a blind eye to the atrocities which target the media sector of the country. Newspaper distribution is concurrently interrupted and TV channels giving airtime to any opposing party are instantaneously shut down. Change must happen in order for a just society to prosper in the modern world, which the current government seems incapable of processing. Empty promises have been present in the political world for years now, and the Tehreek-e-Insaf is not going to change that anytime soon.