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Media bodies condemn use of govt ads to muzzle voices

اپ ڈیٹ 25 نومبر 2021
Media bodies censure tools to silence TV channels. Photo: File
Media bodies censure tools to silence TV channels. Photo: File

Media organisations said on Wednesday that advertisements should never be used as a tool to curb press freedom. They were responding to the recent statements by PML-N leader Maryam Nawaz and Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry relating to government advertising.

Maryam in her presser on Wednesday admitted that an audio clip of her issuing instructions to refuse advertisements to certain TV channels was “genuine.”

In the eight-second clip, the PML-N leader can be heard saying: “No ad at all will be given to Channel 24, Samaa, 92 News and ARY.” But, the PML-N clarified that Maryam had called for shutting her party’s ads. “Maryam had no authority over government advertisements,” the party said in a statement.

Many ministers cried foul as Maryam’s revelation came to the surface.

“The party media cell that Maryam oversee used approximately Rs10 billion to fund federal government advertisements. She gave this money to the TV channels she favoured,” Fawad said.

Reacting to such claims, the media bodies – APNS, PFUJ, and PBA – condemned such tactics to control advertisements and tall claims of funds released to the media outlets, Geo News reported.

In a statement, the APNS said: “The statistics released [by the government] are not only partial and selective but purposefully do not include the advertisement spend of the incumbent government.”

It asked the government to release the data of advertisements given to the media outlets over the last 20 years.

“The APNS is of the firm opinion that government advertising should never be used as a tool to influence editorial content and curb press freedom,” it read, “The APNS is of the considered opinion that through the above statement the government intends to create divisions within the ranks of the media.”

The newspapers body maintained that it has always condemned and resisted all acts and policies of the “past and incumbent governments” that were intended to curb freedom of press and expression by using government advertising to influence editorial content.

“The APNS believes that the present government should ensure that the taxpayer’s money is used for the release of advertisements in the public interest on merit and not to punish or reward a publication. It expects the present government to encourage transparency and merit in the distribution of advertisements to the media,” it read.

Meanwhile, the PFUJ bemoaned the revelations that the PML-N leader ordered to stop the advertisements on certain media channels.

In a statement, PFUJ President Shahzada Zulfiqar and Secretary General Nasir Zaidi said that the union was strongly opposed to any move that aimed at stopping the advertisement of the newspapers or media outlets in a bid to undermine press freedom. “Such attempts are meant to stifle media outlets financially and should not be practised by political parties and governments,” it read.

The two leaders were of the view that political parties and governments should learn from their mistakes and not coerce media into towing their lines. “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 read.

The PBA also issued a statement in Karachi, saying that government advertising should never 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 said.

It read that the PBA condemned all forms of apparent coercion by any government that had used government advertisement to influence editorial policy.

“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,” the PBA added.

It said that the incumbent government has also centralised advertising decisions, taking the right away from individual government organisations, departments, and ministries to exercise control on media.

“The present government’s track record on media relations has also been under a lot of criticism by media watchdogs and journalists’ bodies. When governments try to control freedom of expression then the democracy and people of Pakistan suffer the most,” it read.

Meanwhile, State Minister for Information Farrukh Habib said the admission of Maryam about blocking advertisements of leading television channels during her party’s tenure has exposed the PML-N’s “hypocrisy on media freedom.”