The Facebook logo is reflected in glasses in this picture illustration taken April 1, 2019 in Karachi, Pakistan. The Voice News broadcaster in Lahore has faced a string of attacks on its Facebook and web accounts. (Akhtar Soomro/Reuters)

Voice News website, social media accounts attacked in Pakistan

On February 17, 2023, an unfamiliar account hijacked a Facebook page run by private broadcaster Voice News and published posts that staff fear may trigger harassment or criminal investigation, according to Ahmer Shaheen, the CEO and chief editor, who spoke to CPJ in a phone interview. The broadcaster’s website and second Facebook page have also been hacked since Shaheen joined the outlet in late 2022.

The attacker made other unknown actors administrators of the Facebook page, and they deleted hundreds of news and political commentary videos, Shaheen said. They also posted pornographic images and videos of attacks on a religious minority group, sparking fears that Voice News staff may face criminal charges. Distribution of pornography is prohibited under Pakistan’s penal code, and local courts have sentenced people to death for sharing allegedly blasphemous content on Facebook and WhatsApp in the past. Those accused of blasphemy have also faced violence and harassment from right-wing religious groups.

Voice News has appealed to Facebook to correct the issue and are monitoring the page to manually delete offensive posts in the meantime, according to Shaheen.

A second Facebook page operated by the outlet was also seized in November 2022. News videos on that page were also deleted and pornographic content was posted there for several weeks until Voice News staff regained control of the page after appealing to Facebook. The outlet has backup copies of the lost videos, but many are not currently available to the public, Shaheen told CPJ.

Voice News, which is based in the eastern city of Lahore, estimates a combined audience of 5 million followers on broadcast and social media platforms.

In a separate incident in December, unidentified hackers accessed the account the broadcaster uses to manage its website and domain, according to a screenshot of messages from the service provider, which CPJ reviewed. They lost advertising revenue as a result and are republishing content from a backup copy, Shaheen told CPJ.

Unidentified men attacked Shaheen, who has commented critically on Pakistan’s security forces and political instability, in Lahore last July and stole his laptop, but did not take his wallet when he offered it, leading him to believe he was targeted for his journalism. In early 2023, authorities had not held the perpetrators accountable, Shaheen told CPJ.