ISLAMABAD — A journalists’ union has sought to know from Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan his position on free speech after his Special Assistant on Information Shehbaz Gill announced that the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf government would control all the current affairs programs on TV news channels.

Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists said in a statement that the journalists’ body expressed grave concern over the statement of Gill in which he openly announced that the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf government would control all the current affairs programs on TV news channels and would even finalize the list of guests.

Terming it a fascist tendency, Pakistan Federal Union of Journalist’s president Shahzada Zulfiqar and Secretary-General Nasir Zaidi, in a statement, strongly condemned these remarks and demanded of Imran Khan to clarify his position over the statement of Gill.

The union leaders stated that the freedom of the press and freedom of expression are fundamental human rights guaranteed by the Constitution.

Map of Islamabad Pakistan

“In addition to that, Pakistan is a signatory of international treaties and conventions on press freedom and freedom of expression,” said the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists in a statement.

“We would like to know if the Prime Minister will adhere to such treaties or not.”

The leaders observed that since Tehreek-e-Insaf came to power, the media has been under tremendous pressure.

“There has been a phenomenal surge in the incidents of editorial dictations, censorship, press advice, arm twisting of journalists, content control, and use of advertisement as a tool of blackmailing media houses,” the statement added.

The union leaders said, on the one hand, the government asks Pakistanis to improve the image of the country but on the other hand, “elements like Gill are doing no service to the country by hurling veiled threats at media persons by openly expressing government’s intention of muzzling the media.”

Imran Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf party has found itself on the back foot on the proposed digital regulation draft after a strong protest by the media and journalist community calling for a struggle to preserve free speech.

While the Imran Khan government is mulling curbs on content on social media platforms, mainstream journalists are adamant not to allow such restrictions as they believe electronic media is already subjected to over-regulation, reported The News International.

According to the World Press Freedom Index report, Pakistan’s ranking has dropped since Khan came into office from 139 in 2018 to 145 in 2021. Journalists and the media are priority targets of Pakistan’s military and inter-intelligence services to subjugate freedom of speech.

“The restructuring of the entire sector without involving parliament and consulting stakeholders is ultra vires to the fundamentals of a democratic process,” said Aftab Alam, executive director, Institute of Research Advocacy and Development.

“The government must not assume the role of judge, jury, and executioner.”

(With inputs from ANI)

(Edited by Amrita Das and Saptak Datta. Map by Urvashi Makwana)

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