Reporters Without Borders (RSF) says it is "appalled" by the withdrawal of state advertising from Pakistan’s oldest newspaper Dawn for the past month, saying that this "crude intimidatory tactic" is jeopardizing the newspaper’s editorial independence.
The English-language daily has been deprived of any income from federal government advertising since April 24, the Paris-based media freedom watchdog said in a statement on May 23.
The paper's sister media outlet, DawnNews TV, was subjected to the same method of "pressure and intimidation" two days later, it added.
"As Pakistan is a country where almost no advertising revenue is available from a fledgling private sector independent of the government, this advertising ban poses a grave threat to the media group’s economic viability," according to RSF.
The watchdog said that Dawn, which it described as "one of the last bastions of press freedom in Pakistan," has been in the "deep state’s sights" since October 2016, when the newspaper published an article on the way the powerful military and intelligence agencies defy the civilian government.
In May 2018, distribution of the paper was blocked after it published an interview in which former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif made comments critical of the military.
The latest move against Dawn came after it published comments made by Prime Minister Imran Khan during a visit to Tehran in which he said Pakistan-based militants had been involved in attacks inside Iran.
The story was based on quotes from the official transcript of the press conference, RSF said.
"It is unacceptable that a newspaper that just reports undisputed facts in the public interest should be punished with such a drastic form of economic strangulation," said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk.
Bastard added that the ad ban "bears the military establishment’s hallmark" and "harks back to the worst moments of military dictatorship in Pakistan.”
Pakistan ranks 142nd out of 180 countries listed on RSF’s World Press Freedom Index.