Government bans ads to newspaper group

New York, March 15, 2004—Last week, Pakistan’s Information Minister, Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, acknowledged that the government had suspended advertising in newspapers belonging to the Nawa-i-Waqt Group of Publications, including the English-language daily The Nation and the Urdu-language daily Nawa-i-Waqt. He denied, however, that an official ban had been issued.

In February, the government effectively stopped all advertising revenue from both federal and provincial government sources to the newspaper group, according to local press reports. The Nawa-i-Waqt Group is one of Pakistan’s leading media organizations and publishes more than 10 daily newspapers and magazines.

In interviews with local media, Nawa-i-Waqt Executive Editor Arif Nizami blamed the government action on the newspaper’s critical coverage. “Our reporting about the supremacy of democratic institutions in the country pains the rulers,” said Nizami. Local journalists say that this action is an attempt by the government to pressure and control independent newspapers in Pakistan.

In a March 11 meeting at the National Assembly, Information Minister Rashid claimed responsibility for the action against the Nawa-i-Waqt Group, but denied that there was an official ban, saying instead that there had been a “reduction in the supply of advertisements.” Rashid promised that he would “sort out the problem,” and that the group would be compensated for their losses from the government’s actions.

The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists, the All Pakistan Newspapers Society, and other journalists groups protested the government’s move against the Nawa-i-Waqt Group and accused the government of violating press freedom in Pakistan.

“Press freedom is adversely affected when governments use advertising to punish critical publications,” said Ann Cooper, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists. “Pakistani authorities must ensure the public that no such action was taken against the Nawa-i-Waqt Group of Publications.”

In 2002, the government stopped nearly all advertising to the Jang Group of Newspapers, another powerful media company, soon after one of its newspapers, the English-language daily The News, ran a story connecting the main suspect in the kidnapping of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl with the 2001 attack on the Indian Parliament.