THE open season for reporters is developing a darker tone. An significant line is crossed as the government itself becomes party to smear attacks against journalists. This suggests that the state no longer trusts in its obligations to protect journalists and their right to freedom of expression.
The PTI’s official Lahore account posted two execrable tweets on Thursday, while Twitter was abuzz about Stephen Sackur’s punishing interview of Ishaq Dar on Rough Talk and comparing it with ‘softer’ approaches by some Pakistani anchors.
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“The first was a list of “making myths for the corrupt” media people who it said were the second was another list, this time of “brave and bold journalists fighting the battle of truth and justice.
After they triggered an outrage, the tweets were deleted; a member of the social media staff of the PTI released an apology, saying it was done by a regional PTI account. Although it might be true, the tweets betray the mindset of the ruling party against journalists with critical minds. In short, these are the media people who do not flinch from posing unpleasant questions, who do as their job demands of them, which is to keep the feet of the government to the flames. Now, if only for a while the antipathy of the PTI was there in black and white for all to see. Being a journalist who the government ‘approves of’ is also a questionable honour in such a setting.
A shoot-the-messenger approach to concerns regarding its results has been followed by the PTI government from the onset. Every negative coverage, however real and factual, is automatically derided by government leaders and/or discredited. The writer is held in the dock instead of discussing the problem and seeing the news storey as criticism that might help him change matters
. An army of trolls then appears to launch a hate campaign on social media, vilifying the reporter as ‘anti-state’,’ anti-government’ and also ‘anti-PTI’. In fact, feminist journalists are bombarded with sexual threats aimed at bullying them into silence.
Last year the official handle of the PTI shot many tweets condemning government-critical ‘anti-state’ mediapersons. The government doubled down, adding insult to injury, by saying that the multimedia initiative was directed at ‘educating’ the journalists, not ridiculing them.
That is the issue: the PTI itself has set the tone for this vicious atmosphere in which journalists are unable to do their work without risking their physical safety and emotional well-being.