On Tuesday, the official account of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) fired off over two dozen tweets in English and Urdu, lambasting the press for criticism, saying it can be deemed “anti-state”.
“Freedom of Expression is beauty of Democracy. Expressing enemy’s stance is not freedom of speech but treason against its people,” read one tweet.
At least four hashtags targeting journalism emerged on Twitter on Tuesday — two of the trends became top trends in Pakistan.
Analysis of one such trend #JournalismNotAgenda reveals that besides the PTI’s official verified account, other accounts participating in the campaign were also several factions of the PTI’s social media wing. The top tweets in the hashtag (over 20 tweets per account) were sent out by PTI’s Lahore wing and PTI West Punjab chapter.
The PM’s focal person says tweets against the press dubbing its critical coverage ‘anti-state’ were blown out of context.
It is pertinent to mention that these are all verified Twitter accounts representing PTI’s official regional chapters.
“Media houses & journalists must take care that in their quest for criticism on State, they intentionally or unintentionally do not end up propagating enemy’s stance,” read a tweet, with the hashtag JournalismNotAgenda.
However, when contacted, PTI’s information secretary Omar Sarfraz Cheema denied any threatening or ridiculing of media or any segment of society by the party’s social media team.
"“We need to understand that there are several identities at social media, we have our official accounts, besides the individuals affiliated with the party too can have their accounts and there are freelancers who operate without any signature mark.”" - Omar Sarfraz Cheema, Information Secretary, PTI to Dawn
He said that the party maintained a very strict monitoring of social media team, but many elements acted on their own supporting the PTI. “Suddenly they [supporters] become aggressive and people think that it was the policy of the party,” said the information secretary.
“Some time back there was a famous term in circulation — Maryam cell. We noted that many accounts with individual names or generic names like Jeeve Pakistan first lauded the PTI then suddenly became harsh on media,” Mr Cheema alleged. “Thorough probe revealed that many of the account operators were affiliated with the PML-N,” he claimed.
Besides tweets from the PTI’s official Twitter account, PM’s Focal Person on Digital Media Arslan Khalid, too, tweeted under the hashtag on journalism. “Let’s get rid of the ‘sabse pehlay, sabse aagay’ breaking news culture. Nation expects maturity from media ppl #JournalismNotAgenda,” he wrote.
“I totally support the hashtag and stand by it. If you see the other trends that were trending in Pakistan at the time calling for layoffs of ‘lifafa journalists’, you will see that we in fact steered the conversation away from that [negative] campaign and ran an alternative, more educative trend instead from the official account,” Mr Khalid told Dawn.
While the focal person maintained that the campaign did not intend to ridicule the media but educate journalists on constructive criticism, he acknowledged that a few tweets sent from the PTI’s official account were poorly-worded and blown out of context.
“If you see the series of tweets, we were only discouraging irresponsible journalism. One tweet was badly worded and everyone presented it as a campaign against journalists without considering the context,” he said.
Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) recently warned of “disturbing dictatorial tendencies” after three Pakistani TV stations were briefly taken off air in what it called “brazen censorship”.
“In #Pakistan, pro-gvt trolls are launching a new campaign against independent journalists! Dear @PTIofficial , don’t you know that identifying the leader, the party and the State is typical of totalitarian regimes? #JournalismIsNotACrime,” the RSF tweeted.
Earlier this month, a hashtag calling for the arrest of journalists had briefly become the top Twitter trend in Pakistan.
Many users accompanied it with a composite photograph of prominent journalists and TV anchors, some of whom regularly criticise the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) of Prime Minister Imran Khan and the powerful military establishment.
(This article was originally published on Dawn and has been republished here with due permission.)
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