New York, May 27, 2005—The Pakistani government has banned state-sponsored advertising in two newspapers owned by a leading conservative media company, the Urdu-language daily Nawa-i-Waqt and the English-language daily The Nation.
According to reports in The Nation, last week’s ban was implemented in direct retaliation for an April ad that both dailies ran from the opposition Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). The ad marked the arrival of the party’s leader Asif Ali Zardari in Lahore, the capital of Punjab province. Although other newspapers also carried the PPP ad, the ban was only directed at the two newspapers from the Nawa-i-Waqt Group of Publications, which publishes as many as 10 daily papers and magazines.
The newspapers’ critical reporting of the Musharraf government’s policies was an additional likely reason for the ad ban, local sources say. Local journalists’ organizations, the Council of Newspaper Editors and the All Pakistan Clerks Association, protested the government’s actions and called for an end to the ban.
Several weeks previously, the Punjab regional government had also suspended ad sales to both newspapers, according to local news reports.
Newspapers in Pakistan are highly dependent upon official advertising revenue. Government agencies such as the railroad, telecommunications, and highway construction can provide as much as 50 percent of many newspapers’ ads sales. When the government stops sending ads to a newspaper, private companies often follow the government’s example and withdraw their own ads, according to local sources.
Last February, the federal government also suspended all federal and provincial ad revenues to the Nawa-i-Waqt Group. Local journalists said the ban was in retaliation for critical reporting. The ban was lifted in October 2004. In recent years, other media have also had their official ads withheld after running articles that criticized or irritated the government including the Jang Group of Newspapers in 2002 and the Urdu-language daily Jinnah in 2004.
“We are very concerned that the government of Pakistan is using advertising policy to routinely pressure newspapers that are critical of its activities,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper.