Pakistani government targets country’s oldest newspaper

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is opposed to any sanctions by the Pakistani authorities against the Dawn newspaper and two of its journalists, and is disturbed by government plans for a “code of conduct” for the print media.

In a 10 May statement, the government confirmed that disciplinary measures could be taken against Dawn editor Zaffar Abbas and reporter Cyril Almeida over the so- called “Dawn Leaks” affair, an explosive story published in October 2016 based on leaks from within the government.

The prime minister’s office said in a statement that the story “had no relevance to actual discussion and facts.” But the army insisted on the creation of a commission of enquiry with the aim of punishing those who had leaked classified information. Several government officials were removed as a result.

Dawn is Pakistan’s oldest newspaper and enjoys a great deal of credibility with the country’s journalist community, readers and civil society.

In an editor’s note defending the story, Abbas wrote: “First, this newspaper considers it a sacred oath to its readers to pursue its reporting fairly, independently and, above all, accurately. The story that has been rejected by prime minister’s office as a fabrication was verified, cross-checked and fact-checked.”

In a bid to exploit the case and make an example out of Dawn, the government has also now announced that it also wants to establish a “code of conduct” for the entire print media.

“This attempt by the civilian authorities and the military to punish journalists is very disturbing,” RSF editor-in- chief Virginie Dangles said. “The authorities must abandon the disciplinary measures and the creation of a ‘code of conduct’ for the print media, which would set a dangerous precedent and make the environment for journalists in Pakistan even more hostile."

Four bloggers were recently released by the authorities after going missing in January. Pakistan is ranked 139th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index.

Published on
Updated on 23.08.2019