On eve of elections in Pakistan, RSF calls for clear safeguards for right to information

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the unacceptable constraints on press freedom in Pakistan on the eve of the general elections due to be held on 8 February and calls for guarantees for journalists’ safety amid the prevailing tension.

The oppressive climate that has dominated the entire election campaign has shown no sign of letting up. Journalists and media have been subjected to unprecedented harassment for months while many new laws threaten press freedom.

At least ten reporters have been physically attacked by police or political party supporters while covering campaign rallies. Leading media outlets have received unofficial orders not to refer to Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), the party of Imran Khan, the former prime minister ousted by a no-confidence motion in 2022, who has been jailed since August 2023 and has been given multiple prison sentences. The media have been told to not even mention his name.

In mid-January, the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) issued warning notices to around 40 people, including journalists and YouTubers, for allegedly defaming supreme court judges after the supreme court upheld the election commission’s decision to deprive the PTI of its electoral symbol – the cricket bat.

“The press freedom situation is appalling in Pakistan, where political interference by the all-powerful army undermines democracy. The media are subjected to unacceptable pressures in order to prevent independent and pluralistic news coverage. They are ordered not to cover a specific political party and not discuss certain subjects, especially those linked to the military or to abuses by the intelligence agencies, such as the enforced disappearance of thousands of Pakistani citizens. We condemn these attacks on the right to information and call on the authorities to guarantee the protection of reporters and their freedom to cover these elections without restrictions.

South Asia Desk
Reporters Without Borders

Together with its local partner, Freedom Network, and with leading Pakistani press clubs and journalists’ unions, RSF issued an appeal to Pakistani political parties in September 2023 to adopt concrete measures to protect and promote press freedom.

The political parties were asked to support press freedom, the right to reliable news and information, and an end to impunity for crimes against media personnel, in a country where 96% of the murders of journalists in the past ten years have not resulted in any convictions, according to Freedom Network.

In the election manifestos that they published in recent weeks, the main parties have proposed more or less strong measures regarding the media. The PTI was the most comprehensive, with seven pages of proposed measures. At the other end of the spectrum, the Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N ) made no proposals with regard to press freedom.

The Pakistan People's Party (PPP) has undertaken to overhaul the 2016 Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA), as has the Awami National Party (ANP), in order to “do away with the suppression of freedom of expression and information.”

Among other things, the PTI promises the creation of an independent media regulatory authority and legislation that explicitly protects the rights of journalists and the media against undue influence and harassment. The Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM-P) has undertaken to ensure that media regulatory authorities are free from any government control.

Regarding the protection of journalists and combatting impunity for crimes of violence against them, the PML-N promises the creation of a commission for the safety and protection of journalists. The PTI undertakes to protect journalists by means of legislative safeguards, while the MQM promises to render justice to the families of murdered journalists and to end the culture of impunity.

These promises would of course have to be carried out once a new government has been installed – in a country where press freedom has been repeatedly flouted.

Pakistan is ranked 150th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2023 World Press Freedom Index.

152/ 180
Score : 33.9
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