Fears of censorship, vendetta grip Pakistan

Updated - July 06, 2019 11:09 pm IST

Published - July 06, 2019 09:00 pm IST

Officers of Pakistan's police and Anti-Narcotics Force escort opposition lawmaker Rana Sanaullah Khan (centre) to appear him in a court in Lahore, Pakistan on July 2, 2019.

Officers of Pakistan's police and Anti-Narcotics Force escort opposition lawmaker Rana Sanaullah Khan (centre) to appear him in a court in Lahore, Pakistan on July 2, 2019.

On Monday evening, Geo News started telecasting an interview of former Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari. But a few minutes into the interview, it was stopped, without any explanation.

Earlier in the day, Rana Sanaullah (in photo), a senior leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), was arrested by the Anti-Narcotics Force (ANF) for “possession of a huge amount of drugs”, allegedly found in his car. The incidents have raised fears about censorship and crackdown on political vendetta.

Journalist Muneeb Farooq said the current government is a renewed version of Pervez Musharraf’s military regime where there was a titular head who owed everything to the people who brought him to power. “It is designed to be a 10-year-rule. Brace yourselves for more crackdowns, for more censorship and for more arrests of Opposition leaders. The interesting bit is that nobody can predict that maybe a year down the line, the ones who are blue-eyed can become expendables,” Mr. Farooq told The Hindu .

Ajmal Jami, a journalist with Dunya News channel, said it was quite surprising that a seasoned politician like Rana Sanaullah and someone who already knew he was going to be arrested soon was caught with such a large amount of drugs in his own car. “This makes it easy for the Opposition, especially the PML-N, to raise fingers as this entire exercise was a bit suspicious. ANF officials are saying that they have sufficient evidence and they will present them in the court of law,” said Mr. Jami.

Besides Mr. Sanaullah, a number of Pakistan’s Opposition politicians, including Mr. Zardari and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif are in jail on corruption charges. Mr. Sharif’s brother and former Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif was also arrested last year.

Populist direction

The arbitrarily imposed curbs on freedom of expression over the past year have certainly endangered Pakistan’s democratic fabric, said Fahd Humayun of the Jinnah Institute. “Restrictions on journalists, fake news and media clampdowns are being witnessed the world over as populist leaders try to shore up support in the face of slow growth, wage stagnation and unemployment. Recent trends at home suggest a similar direction,” Mr. Humayun said.

Senior analyst Raza Rumi said the problem in Pakistan is twofold. First is the continued self-censorship which many media outlets are undertaking even if there is no advisory or direct order to censor content. “They do this because owners of TV channels and newspapers are reluctant to take risks. In a way, this is the classic corporatisation of media that is taking place, which has already reached its zenith in the U.S. and India and other bigger countries.”

The second problem, Mr. Rumi said, pertains to the political polarisation. “The journalists and media houses are divided along political lines and it is not a healthy sign for the growth of independent media and even the consolidation of journalism. What is required is that the editors and the news managers of media houses should take stock of the situation and try to make their programming and reporting less polarised and less partisan. This might help the overall impression of some kind of censorship in place.”

When Mr. Zardari’s interview was abruptly taken off air, many people pointed out how Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan’s interview was aired despite the fact that the TTP has killed thousands of Pakistanis in dastardly attacks.

“The following terrorists, murderers, etc. allowed interviews and television coverage but not former President @AAliZardari. Why is our wannabe dictator so scared,” Mr. Zardari’s daughter Bakhtawar Bhutto tweeted, quoting a tweet with pictures of Ehsanullah Ehsan, Kulbhushan Jadhav (Indian charged with spying), Abhinandan (Indian pilot) and Saulat Mirza (a convicted murderer).

TV journalist Sabir Shakir, however, diasgreed with her. “Comparing her father with them is not appropriate. Besides, PEMRA (Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority) laws don’t give permission for such interviews. Ehsanullah Ehsan’s interview was a mistake; it shouldn’t have gone on air. Two wrongs don’t make a right.”

Mehmal Sarfraz is a journalist based in Lahore.

0 / 0
Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.