Prime Minister Imran Khan, on World Press Freedom Day yesterday, tweeted a verse from the Qur’an in what seemed to be a warning against the dissemination of fake news.
He shared a verse which translates as: “And mix not truth with falsehood, nor conceal the truth while you know (the truth).”
The Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) government has taken an active and aggressive stance against cracking down on suspected fake news during its eight months in power, even creating a Fake News Buster Twitter account to share stories it claims are “fake”.
Some of the news reports that the Fake News Buster has dismissed as fake have included one on a major cabinet reshuffle that saw the departure of finance minister Asad Umar, the transfer of the inspector general of police of Islamabad after a run-in with minister Azam Swati, and a report on the ruling party operating 18 undeclared bank accounts, raising questions over the Twitter account’s accuracy in highlighting such reports.
Meanwhile, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari cautioned in his message that “new tools and tactics are being tested to gag the media in developing democracies”, while noting that the dangers to press freedom in developing countries are mounting.
He said that a “policy of carrot and stick by government powers has been let loose at different tiers of media houses and professionals in these countries”, adding that Pakistan was no exception.
Bhutto Zardari said that a vibrant and free media is necessary for a progressive democracy.
He added that the PPP, along with “bona fide journalists and media persons”, would resist every kind of intimidation against the freedom of the press and media in Pakistan.
He claimed that the PPP had “thrown away the draconian press and publication laws imposed by dictatorial regimes and would continue to act as an umbrella for press freedoms in the country despite facing the worst kind of victimisation under different pretexts”.
Bhutto Zardari said that journalists, as well as PPP leaders and workers, had fought “shoulder to shoulder against the dictators and anti-democratic forces during last five decades”.
In a video message shared on Twitter, United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres said that a “free press is essential for peace, justice, sustainable development and human rights”, adding that no democracy is complete without access to transparent and reliable information.
He said that a free press is the cornerstone for building fair and impartial institutions, for holding leaders accountable and for “speaking truth to power”.
The UN chief noted that the focus of the 2019 World Press Freedom Day is the election season in different countries.
“Facts, not falsehoods, should guide people as they choose their representatives,” the UN chief said. “While technology has transformed the ways in which we receive and share information, sometimes it is used to mislead public opinion or to fuel violence and hatred.”
Guterres noted that civic spaces are “shrinking around the globe at an alarming rate” and that anti-media rhetoric is on the rise, along with violence and harassment against journalists, including women.
“I am deeply troubled by the growing number of attacks and the culture of impunity,” he said, while noting that as per Unesco, almost 100 journalists were killed in 2018 while hundreds were imprisoned.
“When media workers are targeted, societies as a whole pay a price,” the UN secretary general said, adding: “On World Press Freedom Day, I call on all to defend the rights of journalists, whose efforts helped us to build a better world for all.”
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