Journalists reveal censorship on PTI coverage ahead of Pakistan’s elections

In the context of Pakistan’s upcoming February 8 elections, journalist Amir Mehmood, a member of a private news channel’s top management in Lahore, received a WhatsApp message from a military official instructing censorship of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party coverage. Mehmood and several other journalists anonymously shared their experiences, indicating a broad restriction on mentioning PTI affiliations, using party flags, or presenting candidates as anything other than independent.

Former Prime Minister Imran Khan, the founder of PTI, has been imprisoned since August 2023 on corruption and state secrets charges, which he dismisses as politically motivated. The Election Commission of Pakistan rejected PTI’s nomination papers, and the Supreme Court upheld stripping the party of its election symbol, forcing many candidates to run as independents.

Journalists and Human Rights Watch have highlighted an escalation in pressure on media outlets and individuals, with accusations of censorship, pre-poll rigging, and suppression of dissent. The situation, characterized by unclear and arbitrary censorship, intensified after events on May 9, 2023, prompting heightened media monitoring and restrictions.

While the interim information minister denies such orders, there is a consensus among journalists about the erosion of media freedom. The tactics of intimidation have evolved, with an emphasis on influencing media owners and top-tier management rather than individual journalists. The impact extends to online platforms and social media, crucial for PTI’s typically younger supporters.

Concerns about internet restrictions on election day have been raised, potentially hindering journalists’ ability to cover the event comprehensively. The lack of clarity in censorship directives and potential internet disruptions could further erode trust in the electoral process.

The PTI’s blackout has resulted in lopsided election coverage, with fears that restrictions may intensify as the election date approaches, favoring rival parties.

Mehmood emphasizes the significant difference from the 2018 polls, stating that this time, there is a complete erasure of PTI’s presence, hindering fair competition and the public’s ability to identify PTI candidates. The evolving situation raises broader questions about democratic principles and freedom of expression in Pakistan.

(Names of journalists are changed due to privacy concerns)

Source: Minute Mirror

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