Islamabad – VIJAY SHAH via CPJ
Pakistani media authorities have ordered Radio Mashaal, a radio station funded by the US, to close operations on the nation’s soil, causing protests and condemnation among advocates for freedom of the press, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reported on Friday. The shutdown affects Radio Mashaal‘s bureau in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad. The radio station broadcasts in the Pashto language, a relative of Persian, which is spoken in Pakistan’s northern Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province and which is also a national language of neighbouring Afghanistan. The station is headquartered not in Pakistan, or indeed Asia, but in Prague, Czech Republic, with the Islamabad bureau being a satellite office.
Radio Mashaal is a Pakistani subsidiary of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), a former anti-Communist propaganda and news station currently sourcing funds from the US Congress, according to the CPJ.
Local news reports claimed that recommendations made by the country’s secret intelligence service, the Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, prompted the Interior Ministry to order the shutdown of the radio outlet. According to Radio Mashaal’s parent broadcaster, the ministry stated that the station’s programming were “found against the interests of Pakistan and are in line with [a] hostile intelligence agency’s agenda.” Relations between Pakistan and the US have been lukewarm in recent years. Reasons included alleged Pakistani top-level support of the Taliban fighting NATO forces in Afghanistan, the fact that Osama bin Laden, once America’s most wanted terrorist, was able to escape detection for many years in Pakistani territory, and only this year, US President Donald Trump threatened to end aid to Pakistan for not pulling its weight in the ‘war on terror’.
The Interior Ministry was also troubled by what it considered to be Radio Mashaal’s negative attitude towards Pakistan, including claiming that the country was a ‘failed state’ and a ‘hub of terrorism’ and that Pashtun Pakistanis were ‘dissatisfied’ with their nation. The station was also accused of factual distortion.
The CPJ roundly condemned the closing of Radio Mashaal in Pakistan in their article. The committee’s Asia programme coördinator, Steven Butler, said “The order to close Radio Mashaal’s office in Islamabad is a draconian move by Pakistani authorities and a direct threat to press freedom in the country,
‘Radio Mashaal is an important source of information in Pakistan and should be allowed to continue operating in the country without further harassment from the government.”
Meanwhile, Radio Mashaal’s parent company has also expressed dismay over the enforced closure, stating it was ‘extraordinarily concerned’ and is “urgently seeking more information about the Pakistani authorities’ intentions,” adding that the station is “an essential source of reliable, balanced information for our Pakistani audience.”
While the country’s constitution guarantees press freedoms in theory, the Pakistani government does clamp down on critical reporting or stories that could, in its eyes, cause harm to the country. There have been claims of violent attacks on journalists, even assassinations. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has ranked Pakistan 147 on the 2016 World Press Freedom Index.
HEM Journalism Portal, HEM News Agency, Twitter, Twitter Inc. https://twitter.com/halfeatenmind/lists/hem-journalism-portal
CPJ, Twitter, Twitter Inc. https://twitter.com/pressfreedom
“Pakistan orders closure of US-funded Radio Mashaal office in Islamabad” – Committee to Protect Journalists (19 January 2018) https://cpj.org/2018/01/pakistan-orders-closure-of-us-funded-radio-mashaal.php
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