The party says it was a mistake
On Thursday, the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf tweeted two lists of journalists from its regional but verified Twitter accounts.
The first list bore the names of several heavyweights of the Pakistani media industry, including Hamid Mir, Asma Shirazi, Mansoor Ali Khan and Talat Hussain. The tweet accused them of “building narratives for the corrupt”.
“Today there is a long never ending list of anchors/media men building narrative for the corrupt,” read the first tweet from the party’s regional account. “Let’s take the names loud & clear.”
In the next tweet, the party named other anchorpersons, including Imran Riaz Khan, Sabir Shair and Kashif Abbasi, who it said should be appreciated for fighting the “war of truth & justice”.
However, both tweets were deleted minutes after they were posted from the party’s Lahore account.
Jibran Ilyas, who heads the PTI’s Twitter team, told SAMAA Digital that it was a mistake. He has apologised as the head of the team.
“One of the operators of our regional account made the list and tweeted from the account,” Ilyas said. “Please note that it wasn’t tweeted from the central account.”
The PTI social media manager said the party believes in freedom of speech and no such “organized aggressive campaign” is being run against journalists. Neither is it the party’s policy, he clarified.
But Mir, one of the journalists accused of “building narratives for the corrupt” in the tweet, says this isn’t the first time a ruling party has attacked them for their criticism of the government. “The PML-N and the PPP used to do the same in their governments and they even called me Imran Khan’s friend.”
The journalist says he considers such a campaign from the ruling party a “certificate” because it makes him feel like he is doing a good job as a journalist. “I don’t take it seriously,” he told SAMAA Digital.
Mir didn’t say if he believes it is the PTI’s official policy to target journalists but he did say was that one of PM Khan’s focal persons often targets journalists on Twitter.
Journalists in Pakistan have been complaining of increasing censorship in the country ever since PM Khan’s government came into power in July 2018. Hundreds of journalists have lost their jobs due to the financial crisis in the industry. Many say they were sacked by their organisations for their critical reporting of the government and the country’s powerful establishment.
This August, over 50 Pakistani woman journalists issued a joint statement, claiming that government officials were instigating online attacks against them. According to the statement, their personal details were made public in a “well-defined and coordinated campaign.”
Farieha Aziz, the co-founder of digital rights organisation Bolo Bhi, says ministers and the PM’s special assistants often “single out” journalists and commentators on social media. “It has become a pattern,” she told SAMAA Digital. “A minister or special assistant singles out a journalist or commentator and then hundreds of other accounts start attacking them.”
She said the attacks on journalists have pushed some of them to exercise self-censorship. “There is self-censorship because there is a limit to which you can resist the pressure.”