In the latest chapter of the PTI government’s drive to muzzle all criticism of its performance it has decided to try to name and shame journalists on Twitter. Just last month, the PTI government installed a new PTV chairman who said the opposition would get no screen time on PTV. The PTI government seems to be doubling down on censorship as times get hard, the opposition’s anti-government rallies have them on edge and they’re trying to preserve what little remains of their once positive image. And what better way of plugging the holes in the sinking boat of ‘Tabdeeli’, than to silence journalists reporting the facts.
In a series of tweets from their verified, official PTI Lahore account the party tried to launch an attack against journalists that have been critical of its performance in the last two years. Piggybacking off the Ishaq Dar–Hard Talk fiasco, the PTI tried to imply that Sackur’s grilling of Dar would never be possible in Pakistan because Dar has never seemed that frazzled in interviews with Pakistani journalists. The PTI Lahore account alleged that veteran journalists like Talat Hussain, Naseem Zehra, Najam Sethi, Hamid Mir etc, are all partisan and “building narratives for the corrupt”. This the PTI Lahore account followed up by tweeting another list, only this time it a was list of the journalists they approve of who are “fighting the war of truth and justice.”, coincidentally none of these journalists have been critical of the PTI’s performance or asked PTI representatives the type of hard questions that Sackur asked Dar.
The tweets have since been deleted, after backlash from the media community and ordinary citizens over the incumbent government’s attempt to bully a handful of journalists. But the damage has been done, by pulling stunts like this the PTI is contributing to a narrative that journalists are just stooges for sale and the important information they bring to the public is manufactured and not factual. Not only does this increase polarisation in the country by way of getting people to distrust facts provided by the media, it also creates an unsafe environment for journalists to work in. If the general public is led to believe that all journalists are sell outs parroting the narrative of those that bought them then they public will lash out in an effort to punish them for their “corruption”.
According to data from the Freedom Network’, 131 journalists have been killed in the past 20 years in Pakistan. In July, journalist Matiullah Jan was abducted from the federal capital in broad daylight before he was returned. Bilal Farooqi another journalist was arrested by police over social media posts defaming the army. Hamid Mir was shot for his reporting, allegedly by the ISI or sectarian outfits but it remains unknown to this day. And female journalists routinely face threats and harassment over their work. This intimidation of female journalists has become so routine that the PTI was, allegedly involved in it too, in August 2020 over 40 women journalists signed a statement saying “The online attacks are instigated by government officials and then amplified by a large number of Twitter accounts, which declare their affiliation to the ruling party”.
In a country like Pakistan where journalists are already under attack for doing their jobs, it does not behoove the PTI to add to their misery by launching smear campaigns against them. Pakistani journalists continue to do their job, and speak truth to power despite the threat to their lives, it is incredibly infantile and unfair of the government to try to pretend they are unaware of that fact and discredit them.