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FREE PRESS
Pakistan’s attempts to silence journalists critical of the government
Fri May 28

It seems politicians making promises they can’t keep is a global tactic for winning over voters. Despite Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s promise for a free press before taking office, the country continues dealing with not only the suppression of media, but online attacks on journalists at home and abroad who criticize its government.In 2019, BBC journalist Ilyas Khan shed light on a protest that Pakistan effectively suppressed. Demonstrators were calling out the military for abuses in the ethnic Pashtun regions of the country bordering Afghanistan. Police responded by arresting them, but it never made headlines, especially given it coincided with a Kashmir rally happening the same day.In response, Pakistan’s ruling party PTI refuted the story on Twitter while calling Ilyas “biased” and “anti-government,” leading to numerous online attacks on the journalist.Since then, journalists and media organizations alike have been called out publicly, imprisoned, or fined for printing or airing “objectionable content” by the government.More recently, a former contact of the Prime Minister with his own show was taken off air after speaking out at a protest for free press in the country’s capital.Pakistan’s ruling party even launched the account @FakeNews_Buster to counter “fake and negative” reports. They, alongside Imran Khan’s special assistant, targeted major media outlets such as Dawn, Jang, and Geo News. In response, the Coalition of Women in Journalism — an organization that has been documenting cases of online harassment against Pakistani journalists since 2017 — published an open letter calling on government authorities to stop officials (such as Imran Khan’s special assistant) from trolling journalists online. In response, she was met with a storm of online abuse and multiple attempts to hack her Twitter account.

Attacks on the press aren’t unique to Pakistan, eithers. India, Turkey, and even the U.S. have seen government officials discredit valid reporting. A 2020 study determined the impact of this strategy. It detailed the efficacy of former President Donald Trump’s attacks on the media in eroding the credibility of the press and undercutting consensus around Covid-19 — even as the pandemic continued killing hundreds of Americans each day.