Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said on Thursday there was “no question of gagging” journalists after being challenged about Islamabad’s record at a media freedom conference in London.
Qureshi was questioned about the recent decision to take three Pakistan television channels off air, the arrest of journalists and deepening concerns about censorship. “Believe you me, there is no question of gagging or controlling media,” he told the conference co-hosted by Britain and Canada. “That time has gone and with the new social media, the advent of social media, even if you want to gag you can gag nothing.”
Pakistan routinely ranks among the world’s most dangerous countries for media workers. Reporters have frequently been detained, beaten and even killed for being critical of the government or military.
Global watchdog Reporters Without Borders this week warned that cutting off AbbTakk TV, 24 News, and Capital TV was “indicative of disturbing dictatorial tendencies.” They were temporarily taken off air after screening a news conference with opposition leader Maryam Nawaz.
Qureshi said close to 89 private TV channels were operating in Pakistan. “Three of them were taken off, I’m told for 6-8 hours, and now they are functioning again,” he said. He said the channels had “issues” with the regulatory body, adding: “Those issues have been settled.”
Qureshi was also asked about an interview with ex-president Asif Ali Zardari, now an opposition leader, which was also abruptly taken off air. He said Zardari, who is currently facing corruption charges, was not permitted to be interviewed in the way he was, “otherwise he can say what he wants to.”
He was also asked about Moshin Dawar, a parliamentarian and civil rights leader arrested after being linked to a violent clash between Pashtun activists and security forces. Qureshi said Dawar was able to make speeches in Parliament but “that does not give him a license to challenge the writ of the state and attack a military checkpost and go into areas which are beyond the realm of a parliamentarian.”
A journalist, Gohar Wazir, was also arrested after interviewing Dawar.