Reporters Without Borders listed Prime Minister Imran Khan as a “predator since taking office” in the 2021 gallery of 37 state leaders “who crack down massively on press freedom.”
The global media rights watchdog released a report on Friday in which they highlight countries suffering clampdowns in press freedoms.
The RSF reports 17 heads of state, including Khan, made their debut in this year’s list, released 5 years after the last one. “All [leaders in the gallery] are heads of state or government who trample on press freedom by creating a censorship apparatus, jailing journalists arbitrarily or inciting violence against them.”
Like 19 other countries on the list, Pakistan is among the countries marked ‘red’ on RSF’s press freedom map, labelling them ‘bad’ for journalism. Currently, Pakistan is ranked 145 out of 180 in the World Press Freedom Index, with India at 142.
The RSF analyses each ‘predator’ according to their ‘predatory method’. Khan was described as “the ideal candidate to look good on the public stage without ever questioning the all-powerful military’s authority behind the scenes.” His method was declared “Military, with dictatorial tendencies.” The report also asked critics to “watch out” because they are his favourite targets, and found that “questionable humour” is Khan’s official discourse.
The RSF’s impression of the Prime Minister was of a “fashionable jet-setter,” as a reference to his days as a cricketer, who was the “ideal candidate to look good on the public stage without ever questioning the all-powerful military’s authority behind the scenes.”
The RSF wrote that Khan’s predatory tendencies have been active “since taking office” because “the military reasserted the “deep state” over civilian power” in the 2018 elections. The report showed repeated emphasis on the “brazen censorship” in Pakistan since Khan assumed office in 2018. “In the shadows, behind Khan in the limelight,” the RSF stated, “Pakistan is reliving some of the worst moments of its past military dictatorships.”
According to the RSF, Pakistan’s World Press Freedom Ranking rose from 159 in 2013 to 139 in 2018, only to drop to 142 in 2019 and then 145 in 2020-21. The NGO noted that “Newspaper distribution has been interrupted, media outlets have been threatened with the withdrawal of advertising and TV channel signals have been jammed [since Khan’s government took over].”
In its report on January 25, the RSF expressed disappointment when “BBC had to stop broadcasting a daily Urdu-language news bulletin on Pakistan’s Aaj TV”.
The Press Freedom Predators Gallery quoted Khan’s infamous statement made in a press conference Washington in July 2019 wherein he dismissed any concept of press censorship. “Pakistan has one of the freest presses in the world (...) To say there are curbs on the Pakistan press is a joke,” he said in the US capital.
Khan has repeated this stance on the freedom of the press in Pakistan on numerous occasions. In the same press conference, Khan declared that press in Pakistan has more freedom than in Britain. “I have seen the British media, they are very open and free. But the Pakistan media, in my opinion, is freer than the British media.”
On the 2021 World Freedom Press Ranking, the UK ranks at 33, compared to Pakistan at 145.
In an interview with Al Jazeera in September 2020, Khan said that no government in the history of Pakistan has taken “blatant propaganda against a government like it has happened with us.” He continued comparing Pakistan’s press with England’s saying that “if the British Prime Minister was subjected to the sort of things that I have been, he would have been millions of dollars richer.”
On freedom of speech, he stated that “I know what freedom of speech is… its us, the government who feel unprotected, not the media.”
Addressing a question regarding enforced disappearances, Khan said, “maybe some journalist was picked up for a few hours, in these two years [2018-2020], it has been unheard of.”