The Reporters Without Borders has named 37 heads of state and government as the ‘predators of press freedom,’ accusing them of cracking down massively on journalists by resorting to censorship, imprisonment and torture in their countries.
Prime Minister Imran Khan, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, Indian Premier Narendra Modi, Chinese President Xi Jinping, Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un among others have been named in the report.
The Reporters Without Borders – also known as the Reporters Sans Frontiers or the (RSF) – is an international organisation working for the rights and protection of journalists. Its latest report about curbs on the media comes after a gap of five years.
Nearly half of those 37 paintings on a gallery of grim portraits, were the new entries, the RSF said on its website. Among them 13 are from the Asia-Pacific, region, while two of them are women – Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam.
“All  are heads of state or government who trample on press freedom by creating a censorship apparatus, jailing journalists arbitrarily or inciting violence against them, when they don’t have blood on their hands because they have directly or indirectly pushed for journalists to be murdered,” the RSF said.
The RSF report said that PM Imran started imposing restrictions on press freedom since coming to power after the 2018 elections. Under his rule, it said, democratic forces had weakened and the ‘deep state’ of the establishment was strengthened instead of civilian supremacy.
According to the report, during his rule, religious conservatism and the ideology of populism increased. The report described the tenure of the premier as reminiscent of dictatorial regimes of the past, as freedom of the press had been suppressed in every possible way.
It said that during Imran’s tenure, pro-government media and social media were promoted while independent journalists faced lawsuits, assassinations, violence and censorship. Journalists critical of the government had been harassed in various ways, it added.
The country’s print, TV and social media had been banned in various ways, including blocking advertisements, shutting down TV channels, and torturing and abducting journalists. Even journalists leaving the country for security reasons were also being harassed in those countries, the RSF said.
During Imran’s tenure, the report also said, free comments and public opinion on social media were being suppressed through strict social media laws, adding that the journalists who dare to confront the trolls are being branded as ‘anti-Pakistan’, ‘anti-army’ and ‘anti-Imran Khan’.
Strongly rebutting the recent report of Reporters Sans Frontiers (RSF), a government spokesperson said that PM Imran-led government believed in the freedom of expression and media independence.
In a press statement, the government’s spokesperson said it was evident from the unanimous approval of the Journalist Protection Bill by the Cabinet which would go a long way in ensuring the safety and security of the journalist community.
“Apropos RSF’s 2021 “Press freedom predators” report, published by Reporters Sans Frontiers (RSF) on July 2nd and updated July 5th, 2021, is vehemently rebutted,” the spokesperson said.
The statement said it was quite surprising that RSF jumped to the conclusion that media in Pakistan was under “increasingly draconian censorship measures by Khan’s government”, despite the fact that the current government had been taking all possible measures to create a congenial environment for journalists to perform their professional obligations.
“The fact of the matter is that Pakistan has a vibrant media landscape. The liberal media policy of the government has resulted in exponential media growth. The country has 43 international media channels, 112 private TV channels, 258 FM channels and 1,569 publications. The size of the media speaks volumes about the robustness of the media in Pakistan,” it was added.
“Contrary to the RSF’s report the government does not believe in issuing press advice. Rather, it encourages self-regulation by the media,” it was stressed.
Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry told the BBC that the report was “rubbish” and the government would soon give its detailed position in this regard. In a separate TV interview, he said that Pakistan is currently facing a global propaganda war.