Following PMLN leader Maryam Nawaz’s admission to halting ads for certain TV channels, various groups say this practice must end
Various media bodies on Wednesday voiced concern over an admission from Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) Vice President Maryam Nawaz that she had barred ads for certain TV channels while head of her party’s media cell, stressing that ad revenue should not be used as a method of coercing the press.
In a statement, the All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS) said that government advertising should never be used to influence editorial content and curb press freedom. It also regretted Information Minister Chaudhry Fawad Hussain releasing data of advertisements in the PMLN government while not providing any information on his own government’s ad spend.
Noting that the figures released by Fawad were “partial and selective,” it urged the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI)-led government to release data of the advertisements it had given to media outlets over the past 20 years. It said Fawad’s statement appeared intended to sow division within the ranks of media and this was highly condemnable.
The APNS statement emphasized that it had always resisted policies that sought to curb freedom of press and expression, and influence editorial content, through government advertising. It advised the incumbent government to ensure advertisements were offered on merit and not as a means to punish.
In a separate statement, the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) regretted that Maryam, as head of the PMLN’s media cell, had ordered the party to halt advertisements to media outlets considered critical of its government. It emphasized that the PFUJ opposed to any move to halt advertisements as a method of undermining press freedom, adding that this stifled media outlets financially and should not be practiced by political parties and governments.
The PFUJ statement went on to advise political parties and governments to learn from past mistakes and allow media to report without hindrance. “It is only independent and free media that is beneficial for political parties and governments because by highlighting their mistakes it provides them an opportunity to rectify the same,” it added.
The Pakistan Broadcasters Association, representing private TV channels, also issued a statement stressing that government advertising should not be used to influence editorial content and control free speech. “The governments should not try and create divisions within media and use advertising as a tool to exercise control over media. We ask the government to make public all media spends of the last 20 years including the present government’s spend,” it added.
“The present government also faces accusations of doing the same whereas as per its manifesto it should ensure that the taxpayer money for advertisement in the public interest is on merit and not due to politics,” it stressed, noting that the PTI-led government had centralized advertising decisions, thereby barring individual bodies from maintaining their own media cells.
The PMLN maintains that Maryam’s audio refers to advertising for the political party and did not utilize any government funding. However, the PTI has alleged that it would launch a probe into the matter, adding that her admission suggested she had misappropriated public funds in a bid to pressure editorial policies of critical channels.