Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has condemned “brazen censorship” by Pakistan’s authorities after the BBC recently stopped broadcasting a daily Urdu-language news bulletin on a privately owned Pakistani television channel because of what the British broadcaster called “interference” in its programs.
“By deciding to terminate its contract with AAJ TV, the BBC has refused to bow to the dictates that the Pakistani authorities impose on the broadcast media,” Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk, said in statement on January 25.
Bastard called on the Pakistani government to "stop interfering in the news media’s editorial decisions," saying such practices are “fundamentally anti-democratic and recall the worst periods of military dictatorship in Pakistan.”
Produced by the BBC’s Urdu Service and broadcast on AAJ TV since 2015, the 30-minute daily news program had been suspended since October.
The BBC announced on January 15 it was terminating its contract with the TV channel, citing “interference in our News Bulletins since October 2020."
BBC World Service Director James Angus said in a statement that any interference constitutes a “serious breach of trust with our audiences.”
RSF called the “interference” cited by the BBC “a euphemism for AAJ TV’s censorship of certain content because of constant pressure from Pakistan’s political and military establishment.”
Voice of America, which also produces a daily Urdu-language news show for AAJ TV, on January 16 reported “occasional disruptions with its show’s airing, as well as occasional censorship of content within a show without prior warning.”
Pakistan is ranked 145th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index.
Media watchdogs in Pakistan and abroad say Pakistani media and journalists have faced increased threats and harassment since the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan took office in 2018 following elections tainted by allegations of manipulation by the military. Khan has rejected the accusations.