Najam Sethi Speaks Out on Plight of Press Freedom in Pakistan

Najam Sethi Speaks Out on Plight of Press Freedom in Pakistan

I have to admit that things are really bad in Pakistan, as far as the media’s concerned. I have lived through many authoritarian regimes, and I’ve lived through many periods of censorship, and I’ve sometimes ended up paying the price for speaking up. But what is now happening is unprecedented. Every time we ask a question, our credentials are challenged, we’re accused of being treasonable, and then efforts are afoot to gag us. We are told that you can’t use certain words. We’re told you can’t interview certain people. We’re told you cannot show demonstrations by certain political parties. One by one, they’re picking off anybody who’s outspoken in any way or the other. And then there’s no one left. Even the channel that I was working for, we were taken off air for four days once, three days once, because of things that I’d said. The fact that they can pull the plug on you, and the fact that there’s nothing you can do, is a huge disincentive for freedom. And so I’m afraid all of us are under enormous pressure. The military remains the most powerful institution in the country. If you ask people in Pakistan who do you trust the most, who do you believe in the most, they’ll say the military. That’s the ethos. It’s built over a 70-year discourse, a narrative that has been created. And rightly so. People are wary of criticizing national security institutions wherever they are. But at the end of the day, when these institutions meddle in politics in a direct way, then they bring themselves into disrepute. And especially if they end up taking sides, which is what has happened now. This is not good for national security, I think this is not good for the country, I think this is something that should be avoided because this is one institution that should remain above board. Pressure tactics come from several sources. One phone call from anyone who’s anyone in the organs of the state to the head of the cable operators, “Take so and so off, take this channel off, shove, block it.” They’ll do it. And that kills you, you know. If your channel is not being shown, the advertiser pulls out. The advertiser pulls out, there’s no revenue, you can’t pay your salaries. You can’t pay your salaries, you have to have layoffs. That’s what’s happening. Government advertising has always been very important. But government advertising has been falling in recent years. YouTube is becoming more popular because people are freer to speak there. But even now, YouTube is under pressure. Governments, institutions, constantly write to YouTube, to Twitter, to remove content which they think is objectionable in one way or another. Constantly we’re having to go to the courts for stay orders and redressal. Often, we’re not given a fair hearing in the courts, because they’re under enormous pressure, too. So, unfortunately, this is unprecedented. I’ve not seen this sort of thing before. But this can change. I think the courts have to protect us. If the courts protect us, things would be different. I think international organizations have to raise a hue and cry when something like— when untoward things happen in countries like ours. But more than anything else, we have to stand up. And we have to go through this phase, we have to resist. It’s not going to be easy. There’s a price to be paid for it. But unity always works. And I think we look forward to the day when the political dispensation changes for the better.

Author: Kevin Mason

6 thoughts on “Najam Sethi Speaks Out on Plight of Press Freedom in Pakistan

  1. How sad, everything was well said but how would one be able to convince the military to reduce power. Hope the courts protect law and order along with the journalists.

  2. Honestly everyone has their own agenda. When you see so many opposite opinions, masses get super confused. No doubt news has become an entertainment

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