RSF calls for urgent measures by Pakistan’s new government to rebuild press freedom

Following Shehbaz Sharif’s installation for a second term as Pakistan’s prime minister on 4 March, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls for urgent measures by his government to rebuild press freedom, which has been badly weakened in recent years in Pakistan.

Sharif’s swearing-in on 4 March, a day after the national assembly elected him as prime minister, ended an electoral process marked by a significant increase in media freedom violations.

Proactive policies are needed in what is one of the world’s most dangerous countries for journalists, one where the media are subjected to a high degree of censorship or self-censorship. As the freedom to report the news is a fundamental pillar of a democratic society, RSF calls on the new government to remedy the situation as a matter of urgency and is proposing specific recommendations.

The government must combat the harassment of women journalists, protect journalists by enforcing the law provided for this purpose, repeal legislation that restricts the right to information, guarantee media independence, and stop resorting to arbitrary Internet and social media shutdowns, RSF says.

“Shehbaz Sharif’s government has much to do to remedy an extremely degraded press freedom environment. Urgent measures are needed to guarantee the free flow of information and media independence and enable journalists to work safely. Military interference in the news media to put pressure on them and censor information, the abduction of journalists by intelligence agencies, the misuse of legislation to muzzle journalists, the arbitrary Internet shutdowns and blocking of social media, the draconian media laws, and the shocking impunity for crimes of violence against journalists are just some of the crucial challenges that need addressing. We call on the government, first of all, to respect the commitments made by political parties during the past electoral campaign, such as the creation of a Safety and Security Commission for the protection of journalists by the PML-N (Pakistan Muslim League- Nawaz), and the revision of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) 2016 which was pledged by the Pakistan People's Party.

South Asia Desk
Reporters Without Borders

RSF recommends that the new government should:


- There is an urgent need to guarantee respect for the rule of law and end impunity for criminal activities by the security services, which have been responsible for the abduction, secret detention and torture of journalists regarded as "troublesome.”

- A total of 53 journalists were killed in Pakistan from 2012 to 2022 according to the 2022 annual report by RSF's partner in Pakistan, Freedom Network, but no one was convicted for 96% of these deaths. The slowness and mediocrity of the investigations prevent justice from being rendered to the victims of these unacceptable crimes. Impunity must be combated by means of strengthened legislation.

- In Sindh, a provincial law on combating impunity for crimes committed against journalists (Sindh Protection of Journalists and other Media Practitioners Act) was enacted in 2021. But the Commission for the Protection of Journalists and Other Media Practitioners, set up by the provincial government under this law, has yet to receive logistical and financial support to be able to provide assistance and protection to journalists in the province.


- The federal government is urged to make the 2021 federal law on the protection of journalists and other media professionals operational immediately. Despite the public undertaking that Prime Minister Sharif gave in Islamabad on 6 December 2022, the planned security commission has still not been set up, leaving the law inoperative. Article 6 also needs to be revised to remove the controversial reference to "bona fide journalism".


- The information ministry must stop using advertising revenue to influence the editorial policies of the privately-owned media, whose funding depends to a large extent on legal notices and state sector advertising. 

- The military’s constant interference in the media to censor information must stop. Journalists should be able to cover all subjects freely and without fear, including those relating to the armed forces, terrorism and the defence of civil rights. 


- The government is to review the amendment to the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority Ordinance 2023 (PEMRA Amendment Act). Certain clauses of the text pave the way for media censorship on the pretext of combating disinformation: the terms "authentic information" and "disinformation" must be defined precisely and without any ambiguity, so as not to allow the withdrawal of a licence or the suspension of any media outlet.

- The Official Secrets Amendment Act (2023) must be revised so that it is not used against journalists.

- Pakistan's Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016, usually referred to as “PECA,” must be revised so that it is not used as a tool to restrict online freedom of expression. This draconian law is currently being used to censor criticism on social media.


- The arbitrary shutdowns of the Internet and mobile services and blocking of social media for political purposes is unacceptable in a democracy. The government must give an undertaking not to resort to these authoritarian measures.

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