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Imran cracks down on media

By Asif Ullah Khan

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Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, who never tires of exulting virtues of U-turns, has turned against his biggest supporter – the Pakistan media. During his 22-year struggle in opposition, Imran was used to the darling of media, now in power he sees the same media as the villain of the piece. The arrest of editor-in-chief of Jang Group Mir Shakilur Rahman by National Accountability Bureau (NAB) on Thursday (March 12) in 34-year-old land case shows that Imran, unhappy with media criticism of his policies, has trained his guns on the
messenger.

As far as the Jang-Geo group is concerned, Imran has a long history of turbulent relationship. Even during his days in opposition, Imran had accused the Jang group of being pro-Nawaz Sharif.

In 2017, Imran’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) had announced a boycott of the Jang-Geo media group, accusing it of “biased, one-sided coverage of the ongoing investigations into Panamagate case”.

While withdrawing its representation from all forums run by the group, Imran told a news
conference that the Jang-Geo group was misleading the public with its ‘biased coverage’ of the case. He called Mir Shakil-ur-Rehman, the owner of Jang- Geo Group, ‘godfather of media’ who, he alleged, was trying to hide the financial corruption of the Sharif family. In return, he alleged the PML-N regime was doling out advertisements worth billions of rupees to the Jang-Geo group. He had even said that his party has prepared a case against Shakilur Rahman, which he will present to NAB.

However, even after Imran came to power the Jang-Geo group did not change its stand against Imran. Some of the talk show hosts were severe on Imran for the economic mess and the way he has unleashed a vendetta campaign against opposition leaders in the name of accountability and anti-corruption drive. They repeatedly questioned why the anti-
corruption drive just targeted the opposition leaders, who were arrested on flimsy grounds, while no action was taken against members of his cabinet, who already were facing charges before joining his government. People say media censorship, intimidation and suppression of voices of dissent under Imran’s regime is worst than seen during the rule of the military dictator, Gen Zia-ul Haq. Mohammed Rizwan, a Canada-based journalist of Pakistani origin, told India Legal that like all other things, it is the military establishment which controls the media.
“Anybody refusing to toe the line of the GHQ has to face the consequences” he said. A Lahore-based journalist, who does not want to be named, told India Legal that main reason behind the crackdown on the media is that Imran’s PTI is seen as army’s party. “Although all previous governments had the blessings of the generals, it is the first that the military’s role is so visible in resurrecting Imran to power. It was the army which triggered defections
in major opposition parties to clobber his coalition government. Army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa accompanied him on important visits to Saudi Arabia, the UAE, the US and China” he told India Legal.

Earlier, he said, the foreign and defence policy used to be military's domain but now it’s running the entire show. “Some of the key appointments to his cabinet like Hafeez Sheikh as finance adviser and Firdous Ashiq Awan as information adviser have done at the
behest of the army. So, any criticism of the Imran government is seen as direct indictment or failure of the military” he told India Legal.

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