The interior ministry announced the Islamabad bureau’s closure on 19 January on the grounds that the radio station’s programmes were “against the interests of Pakistan” and “in line with a hostile intelligence agency’s agenda.”
RSF has obtained a copy of the interior ministry directive (attached), which quotes the findings on an ISI report accusing Radio Mashaal of portraying Pakistan as a “hub of terrorism” and as a “failed state in terms of providing security to its people.” It also accuses it of portraying the Pashtun population as “disenchanted with the state.”
“It is not the job of the intelligence services to dictate the editorial line of a radio station that provides Pashto speakers with an alternative viewpoint,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk.
“Investigating security and terrorism issues and interviewing people in the field is not acting against Pakistan’s interests. This is what’s called journalism and it’s what enables a society to prosper. The authorities must immediately rescind this decision, which constitutes a grave violation of media freedom.”
Broadcasting on the short wave from Prague, Radio Mashaal is an offshoot of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), which is funded by the US congress. It was created in 2010 “to provide an alternative to extremist propaganda in the tribal regions along Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan,” RFE/RL says.
Safety of its journalists
“Radio Mashaal serves no intelligence agency or government,” RFE/RL President Thomas Kent said in response to the interior ministry’s accusations. “Our reporters are Pakistani citizens who are dedicated to their country and live and raise families in the villages in which they report.”
RSF shares the safety concerns of the radio station’s journalists, and calls on the authorities to do whatever is necessary to guarantee their security.
Rightly included on RSF’s list of press freedom predators, the ISI often threatens and intimidates media outlets that fail to toe its line. Investigative coverage of security issues is a red line that exposes those who cross it to arrest, harassment or murder.
Last autumn, journalists in the southwestern province of Baluchistan were given an ultimatum by armed separatist groups operating in the province after the authorities banned the media from covering the actions of these groups or the statements they issue.
Pakistan is ranked 139th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2017 World Press Freedom Index.