Pakistan Government Advertising Ban “Abuse of Power and Bid to Stifle Independent Voices” Says IFJ

The International Federation of Journalists today condemned an advertising ban imposed by the Pakistani government on one of the major media groups in the country saying it was a “scandalous abuse of power driven by a desire to stifle independent media voices.”

At the end of February, the government banned the placement of its advertising in newspapers belonging to one of Pakistan's leading media organisations, the Nawa-i-Waqt Group of Publications. Many of these newspapers have been critical of the government’s stance surrounding key political topics such as Kashmir and its nuclear programme.

“This is a direct attempt to sabotage editorial independence,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. “It takes away financial resources, discriminates unfairly and undermines the fundamental right to provide independent and critical reporting.”

As a result of the ban, neither the federal nor provincial government will advertise in the following national dailies: The Nation and Nawa-i-Waqt, the daily Ausaf (Islamabad), the daily Balochistan Express (Quetta), the daily Ummat (Karachi), the daily Jassarat (Karachi), the daily Azadi (Quetta), the daily Financial Post (Karachi), the Monthly Moon Digest, the Daily Intikhab (Karachi), the Intikhab (Hub), and the monthly Shahrag-e-Pakistan (Lahore), among others.

The IFJ is supporting its affiliate, the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists, which is resisting the government’s actions to use advertising as a means of leverage over the media.

“It is a form of economic blackmail based on the grotesque choice -- media must toe the government line or face extinction,” said White. “It is unacceptable in any country that aspires to democratic values.”

The IFJ is calling on the government to withdraw the ban in an effort to ensure that newspapers are allowed to publish in Pakistan without any further harassment or pressure.

“Governments must create fair, transparent and accessible systems for placing official advertising,” said White. “It is not their business to pick and choose media outlets on the basis that they provide political favours.”

The IFJ has called for new standards in allocation of public money to support media and has helped launch a new code of conduct in Brussels designed to clarify how media receive financial assistance from official institutions and private corporations. “The Pakistan case shows that the issue of public money for media is a global question. But the answer is the same – transparent and fair structures which are open to all,” said White.

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The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 100 countries