The Pakistani government’s decision to set up special media tribunals has not gone down well with many among the country’s civil society and human rights activists, who fear it may be the latest move by the establishment to curtail the media’s independence and freedom of expression.
HRCP is deeply concerned at the government's announcement that it is setting up #media tribunals. Given the government's woeful record on press freedoms, HRCP urges it to refrain from pressurising the media further. How are tribunals expected to maintain the media's independence?— Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (@HRCP87) September 18, 2019
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) took to Twitter to voice its concern over the move, saying that it would create further pressure on the media. The Pakistani government already has a body called Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) which oversees and regulates what the media broadcasts.
PEMRA is often used by the government to disallow news channels from interviewing certain dissident figures like Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) leaders and airing anti-establishment views. Amidst worsening relations with India over Kashmir, the body had also recently issued an edict to media houses in the country to dedicate a fixed amount of time covering the matter from the government perspective.
For its part, the government of Pakistan claims that the move is not intended to crack down on media freedom. As per Geo News, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Information and Broadcasting Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan said that Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan believed in the need for positive critcisim from the media but wanted to take action against those using the media to spread baseless rumours and achieve their nefarious designs.