- Speaking to reporters at the World Economic Forum, Imran Khan expressed his disapproval of journalists in Pakistan, saying the media today is more “vibrant” and “free” than in the past, but also “crosses the line” more frequently.
- When asked about an uptick in recent years of journalists complaining about harassment and intimidation by Pakistani security forces, Khan said, “I can honestly say that no democracy would allow this sort of thing that’s going on.”
- Khan also accused media organisations of publishing libelous stories about him and his cabinet members without facing any consequences.
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Prime Minister Imran Khan on Wednesday had strong words for the Pakistani media, accusing journalists of penning libelous stories and anti-democratic propaganda in the name of news coverage.
When asked at the World Economic Forum about the uptick in recent years of journalists complaining about harassment and intimidation by Pakistani security forces, Khan said, “I can honestly say that no democracy would allow this sort of thing that’s going on.”
At first, he acknowledged that criticism plays a vital role in democracy, saying: “There’s nothing better than criticism. Criticism is … the difference between a democracy and a dictatorship; [it’s] why democracies forge ahead of dictatorships.”
But then Khan also seemed to take offence at the media’s view of Pakistan’s government.
“You would not know democracy would be facing that sort of criticism,” he added.
Media censorship has long been an issue in Pakistan. Former talk show host Talat Hussain told The Guardian in 2019 that he was forced to comply with state policy that prohibited openly criticising the government and the military.
“I was told that any suggestion that the 2018 elections were rigged or that the army was part of the running of the government by Imran Khan was unacceptable,” he said.
In 2018, journalist Cyril Almeida was charged with treason after he conducted an interview with former prime minister Nawaz Sharif in which Sharif intimated that Pakistan might have been involved in the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks.
In July 2019, a report about Pakistani journalists protesting media censorship was, ironically, pulled from a news broadcast. Later that year, Khan’s government introduced special “tribunals” to hear cases against the media. Press advocates said the move was an effort to intimidate Pakistani journalists.
Khan, though, defended his crackdown, comparing what he saw as Pakistan’s lax press rules with stricter UK laws. Libelous stories, such as those about him being engaged in illegal activities or his cabinet members not paying taxes, would never be permitted elsewhere, he said.
“[The UK’s] libel laws are such that no one can get away with someone on the television saying, ‘I’ve just heard the prime minister’s wife has left him.’ If you say that in England – you libel someone like that – there are consequences,” Khan said.
“Unfortunately, we still find ourselves defenseless because we can’t protect ourselves,” he said, claiming the government was a victim of – rather than an enemy of – the media.
“In the past, we might have [had] issues but I honestly feel that Pakistan’s media is more vibrant [and] free and sometimes crosses the line more than any other media in the world,” Khan said.