PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari on Sunday called for lifting the “declared and undeclared” curbs imposed on the media by the “PTI regime”. “The Imran Khan-led PTI regime has gagged the media to hide its illegitimacy, incompetency and sheer failure in every sector,” the scion of the Bhutto dynasty noted on the eve of the World Press Freedom Day being observed on Monday (today).
“Several independent journalists and anchorpersons have been forcibly taken off TV screens, leading them to take to social media to express their independent analysis and opinions,” he added. Bilawal pointed out that the PPP had been at the forefront of championing press freedom in the country. He added that his mother, former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, had abolished the draconian press laws imposed by Gen Zia’s dictatorial regime.
“The suppression of free media in Pakistan is a great disservice to the nation and will only serve to add fuel to flames of the legitimate anger and frustration of the people,” he warned. “Freedom of the press is a pivotal part of a vibrant society and democracy, giving voice to the people to be heard. Therefore, all censorship, including the imposed self-censorship through latent threats should be undone and the media should be allowed to play its role as an independent watchdog,” he demanded. He expressed his concerns over Pakistan dropping to 145 out of 180 countries in the Press Freedom Index during the PTI regime.
The index is an annual ranking of countries published by Reporters Without Borders, an international non-governmental organisation dedicated to safeguarding the right to freedom of information. The PPP chairman endorsed the UN’s 2021 World Press Freedom Day theme “Information as a Public Good” and called for an end to the era of sponsored media trials of opposition political leaders in Pakistan. Bilawal pledged that the PPP would continue to fight against curbs on the media and that the party would live up to its history of standing shoulder to shoulder with the journalist community. “The PPP won’t rest until the press in Pakistan becomes truly independent and free,” he added.
Separately, his party called for legislation to halt visible and “invisible” manipulations to control media content on various pretexts. “In addition to the usual threats of murder, physical assault and abduction of media personnel, we are also witnessing control of media content in the name of national security and 5th generation warfare,” read a statement issued by the party’s general secretary in connection with the World Press Freedom Day. “It is a measure of the courage and resilience of our media persons to continue working under these stressful conditions which the party acknowledges,” it added.
“It is time to set up a bipartisan parliamentary committee on ‘freedom of expression’.” The PPP official said media content was being controlled through remote manipulation, sackings of journalists, self-censorship and the “gross misuse” of the Pakistan Electronic Crimes Act 2016. “Blatantly disregarding the law, the investigation agency namely FIA has refused to place before the houses of parliament its six monthly reports.
There is a need for the accountability of the investigation agency as well as amendments to PECA 2016 in consultation with all stakeholders.” The PPP official pointed out that the World Press Freedom Day coincided with the 10th anniversary of taking out al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden at his hideout.