Some Pakistani journalists find breathing room on YouTube as censorship grows

This photograph taken on July 24, 2020 shows a child surfing YouTube in Pakistan for kids content. (AN photo)
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Updated 11 April 2021

Some Pakistani journalists find breathing room on YouTube as censorship grows

  • Information minister Shibli Faraz says no censorship in Pakistan, press enjoys “complete independence and freedom to report” 
  • In digital age, growing number of Pakistani journalists turning to Internet, particularly YouTube, to tap into platform’s ever-growing audiences

LAHORE: The last news channel renowned Pakistani journalist and TV anchor Najam Sethi worked for received several warnings from the country’s electronic media regulatory authority over the contents of his show, including one in April 2019 saying the show would be banned and the channel’s license revoked if Sethi did not apologize to Prime Minister Imran Khan for spreading “false news” about him. 

The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority did not specify what news it had found to be false but said Sethi was being served the notice over a complaint filed with PEMRA council of complaints by Prime Minister Imran Khan. 

After Channel 24 was taken off air at least four times between 2019-20, Sethi knew it was time to move his talk show, Sethi Se Sawal, to YouTube where he now has over 250,000 subscribers. 

Explaining why he switched over to YouTube, Sethi told Arab News in a phone interview: “After various TV channels were restrained from hiring me in 2019 because of pressure from the government or establishment.” 

“YouTube is a breath of fresh air to avoid censorship,” he added. 

Indeed, Sethi is among a growing number of Pakistani journalists who have turned to the Internet, particularly to YouTube channels, amid what editors and reporters call a “widening” crackdown on the media. 

Journalists’ complaints range from direct edicts to editors and producers not to air opposition voices or publish news critical of the government or the military; pulling TV stations from transmission or newspapers from circulation; and targeting the advertising revenue of dissenting media. In 2018 alone, over 3,000 journalists and media workers were laid off. Thousands more have been dismissed since, according to the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ).

Muhammad Usman, Director News at Neo News, a mainstream TV channel, said government advertisements to news channels had decreased by more than 50 percent since the government of Khan came into power in 2018. Two other journalists, part of senior management at top-tier news channels, also confirmed this. 

“For mainstream channels a big chunk of their revenue came from government ads,” Usman told Arab News. “Due to cuts of ad revenue, there were layoffs … In the coming days things will only get worse.”

In 2019, responding to criticism over the government reducing ad revenue for the media, then Information Minister Chaudhry Fawad Hussain said Pakistani media houses needed to revamp their revenue models to reduce reliance on government advertising. 

The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority did not reply to text messages seeking comment for this story. But Information Minister Shibli Faraz denied there was censorship in Pakistan. 

“There is no concept of media censorship in the country, whatsoever,” he told Arab News. “Media in Pakistan enjoys complete independence and freedom to report, be it politics, economy or any other sphere.” 

Journalists like Matiullah Jan disagree. 

On June 4, 2018, then Pakistan military spokesperson Major General Asif Ghafoor, held a press conference and showed a graphic linking a number of prominent journalists to an alleged troll account on Twitter through which he said they had shared anti-state and anti-army propaganda. The journalists featured on the graphic included Jan, then an anchor with broadcaster Waqt News. 

In October that year, Jan left his job amid speculation he was forced to resign over his critical views of the military. The Pakistan army vehemently denies it censors news outlets. 

Shut out from the country’s mainstream media, Jan started a YouTube channel. 

“The reason I started the channel was that at the time I had left Waqt TV; I could not write in any publication,” Jan told Arab News. “There was no job for me.” 

“What we can say on our YouTube channels would be difficult for anyone to say on a TV channel today,” he said. “In this crisis of censorship, YouTube is like a ventilator for us journalists.” 

But censorship is not the only factor pushing journalists toward platforms like YouTube; in the age of digital media, many have launched YouTube channels to tap into the platform’s ever-growing audiences. 

A 2019 profiling study by YouTube showed 73% of Pakistanis who were online watched YouTube every month and 78% of YouTube users in Pakistan said the platform was their first stop when looking for any kind of video. ‘News’ is among the top eight categories of content Pakistanis watch on YouTube, the study said. 

Journalist Imran Shafqat said YouTube had become a viable option for many Pakistani journalists, especially in an environment of censorship, because it gave them access to large audiences. 

That’s why, Shafqat said, he had rented out a small studio in Lahore and started making YouTube videos after the news channel he worked for folded due to financial constraints in 2019. 

“I have no other job right now,” he said. “I am making more money on YouTube than I ever did at any media channel.”

But authorities are beginning to keep a close eye on social media content as well now, journalists say, increasingly using laws such as the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2016 (PECA) to crack down on those who had gone online with criticism of the government and the military. 

Sethi also said he had received numerous calls about the content of his YouTube channel, with authorities warning him to “be careful, please.” 

“To which I reply: ‘Sir, when we were talking on mainstream media you pushed us here [to YouTube]. This is not how it will work now.’” 


Proud to plant Pakistan's flag atop Mount Everest — Shehroze Kashif

Updated 12 May 2021

Proud to plant Pakistan's flag atop Mount Everest — Shehroze Kashif

  • Shehroze Kashif, 19, on Tuesday became the youngest Pakistani to climb the world’s highest peak
  • Kashif started climbing difficult mountainous terrains when he was just 11 years old

KHAPLU, GHANCHE: Shehroze Kashif, the youngest Pakistani to summit Mount Everest, says it was his duty to plant his country’s green flag at the top of the world.

The 19-year-old from Lahore reached the peak of the world’s highest mountain located in Nepal on Tuesday, as a part of Seven Summit Treks Everest Expedition 2021.

“It’s our duty to fly our flag wherever we can, whether it’s a mountain or other place,” Kashif told Arab News over the phone from Everest base camp on Wednesday. “Wherever you can, fly your green flag high.”

In this undated photo, Shehroze Kashif, a 19-year-old climber from Lahore, is seen holding a flag of Pakistan. (Photo courtesy: Alpine Adventure Guides)

With members of his expedition, the young climber known as “The Broad Boy” after summiting 8,047-meter Broad Peak in the Karakoram two years ago, Kashif climbed Mount Everest (8,849 meters) in four days.

Having already scaled a number of tall and difficult peaks, Kashif started climbing difficult mountainous terrains when he was just 11 years old.

In his first video message after the Everest summit, he said: “Alhamdulillah, Pakistan is on Everest. Without the support from Pakistan, this project was not possible. Thanks all of you for your support. I am coming soon to Pakistan.”

He thanked his family, friends and everyone who helped him for “the love, prayers and support” he had received.

Kashif’s achievement was welcomed by Pakistanis, including President Arif Alvi who took to Twitter to congratulate him on becoming the youngest Pakistani to scale the world’s highest peak.

“We are proud of you. I remember your passionate intention to do so when you visited me in Presidency in Feb. I wish you good luck in the future, now that you have Mt Everest in the bag,” the president said.

Previously, Samina Baig was the youngest Pakistani who summited the world’s tallest peak. 

A high-altitude climber, Baig became the first Pakistani woman to climb Everest in 2013 when she was only 21 years old.
 


‘We stand with Palestine,’ PM Khan says as Israel escalates airstrikes on Gaza

Updated 12 May 2021

‘We stand with Palestine,’ PM Khan says as Israel escalates airstrikes on Gaza

  • More than 48 people, including 14 children, have been killed by Israeli missiles in the Gaza Strip
  • Tensions follow Israeli attacks on Al-Aqsa Mosque and attempts to expel Palestinians from their houses in Jerusalem

ISLAMABAD: “We stand with Palestine,” Prime Minister Imran Khan said on Wednesday, as Israel has intensified airstrikes on the Gaza Strip.

More than 48 Palestinians, including 14 children, have been killed and 304 wounded by Israeli missiles fired on the Gaza Strip since Monday, according to Gaza health authorities. In response to the airstrikes, Hamas, which controls Gaza, fired rockets into Israel.

The violence escalated after Israeli forces stormed Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem for a third consecutive day on Monday, firing tear gas, rubber-coated steel bullets, and stun grenades at Palestinian worshippers gathered at the third holiest site in Islam in the final days of the fasting month of Ramadan.

Pakistan has since condemned the Israeli attacks on Gaza and Al-Aqsa Mosque.

On Wednesday morning, Khan took to Twitter to say: “I am PM of Pakistan and #WeStandWithGaza #WeStandWithPalestine.”

Tensions in Jerusalem and other Palestinian territories follow recent attempts by Israeli forces to forcibly expel Palestinians from their houses in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem and hand over their properties to ultra-extreme Jewish settlers.


Eid Al-Fitr: Pakistan’s moonsighting committee to meet in Islamabad today

Updated 12 May 2021

Eid Al-Fitr: Pakistan’s moonsighting committee to meet in Islamabad today

  • The country’s Ruet-e-Hilal Committee will be working with the science ministry and use its data to sight the Shawwal crescent
  • Saudi Arabia has already announced that Thursday will be the first day of Eid Al-Fitr in the kingdom

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Central Ruet-e-Hilal Committee, which announces the sighting of the new moon, will meet in the federal capital on Wednesday to determine the beginning of Eid Al-Fitr in the country. 
Last year, the committee’s newly appointed chairman Maulana Abdul Khabir Azad agreed with the government for the first time to work together with the science ministry and use its data for the sighting of the moon.
The beginning of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan along with Eid holidays and Shiite mourning month of Muharram are determined by moonsighting in Pakistan for which the country has set up a committee of religious scholars.
The use of technology to determine the beginning of Muslim months according to the Islamic lunar calendar has largely remained a contentious issue among conservative clerics who emphasize the necessity of physical sighting of the moon.
The Saudi Royal Court has already announced that Eid Al-Fitr will be celebrated in the kingdom on Thursday. 
It is likely that Pakistan will begin its Eid celebrations on Friday.


Pakistan reports lowest number of coronavirus cases since March 16

Updated 12 May 2021

Pakistan reports lowest number of coronavirus cases since March 16

  • The country’s National Command and Operation Center has requested people to organize Eid prayers in open spaces to prevent the spread of the virus
  • PM Khan has also urged people to take all necessary precautions during Eid holidays to contain the third wave of the pandemic

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan reported less than 3,000 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday, its lowest single-day number since March 16.
According to the National Command and Operation Center (NCOC), which oversees Pakistan’s response to the pandemic, the country had 2,869 new COVID-19 cases and 104 related deaths in the last 24 hours.


Pakistan has reported 867,438 confirmed coronavirus cases since the pandemic emerged in the country in February 2020 and lost 19,210 lives to COVID-19.
The country announced a new set of restrictions earlier this month which included closure of all tourist resorts between May 8 and 16 to mitigate the impact of the third wave of the contagion.
Meanwhile, the NCOC urged people on Tuesday to organize Eid prayers in open spaces and follow strict health safety protocols.
Prime Minister Imran Khan also appealed to the nation to take all necessary precautionary measures to contain the spread of the virus during the Eid holidays.
“I request you to follow the standard operating procedures and particularly use face masks,” he said in a statement. “Take care of your elderly to avoid lockdown.”


Pakistan, OIC strongly condemn Israeli airstrikes on Gaza

Updated 12 May 2021

Pakistan, OIC strongly condemn Israeli airstrikes on Gaza

  • Urge the international community to put an end to ‘flagrant violation of human rights’ of Palestinians
  • More than 38 Palestinians, including children, have been killed in the attacks by Israeli troops in recent days

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) have condemned Israeli airstrikes on the Gaza Strip, which killed more than 35 people, including children, and left dozens injured since Monday.
The violence escalated after Israeli forces stormed the Al-Aqsa Mosque – Islam’s third holiest site – attacking Palestinian worshippers using rubber-coated steel bullets, stun grenades and tear gas over the weekend.
“This is yet another reprehensible action during the holy month of Ramadan, following the increased restrictions on the fundamental freedoms of Palestinians and the attacks in and outside Al-Aqsa Mosque,” Pakistan’s foreign ministry said in a statement on Tuesday night.
It added that the indiscriminate use of force by Israeli forces against defenseless Palestinians “defies all humanitarian norms and human rights laws.” 
“Pakistan calls upon the international community to put an end to the blatant use of force and flagrant violation of human rights of the Palestinian people,” the statement said.
It added that establishing a “viable, independent and contiguous State of Palestine,” based on internationally agreed parameters, the pre-1967 borders, and with Al-Quds Al-Sharif as its capital, is the “only sustainable guarantee for peace in the region.”
Tensions escalated in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem over the weekend after Israeli forces tried to evict an entire Palestinian community and hand over their properties to ultra-extreme Jewish settlers.
After convening a virtual emergency session on Tuesday to discuss the “aggression by Israel,” the OIC said that it “condemns in the strongest terms the repeated attacks by the Israeli occupation authorities against the Palestinian people.”
It also condemned “the Israeli occupation forces’ continuation of their colonial programs – building settlements, attempting to confiscate Palestinian properties, forceful eviction of Palestinians from their land.” 
The OIC also demanded that “relevant international actors,” including the United Nations General Assembly, should implement resolutions and recommendations and “activate the necessary mechanisms to stop these violations.”