President of Lahore Press Club, Azam Chaudhry, was dismissed by state-run PTV after questioning Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on the “diminishing space for freedom of speech” and the increased restrictions over media in Pakistan during a press conference in the provincial capital.
Chaudhry posed a two-part question to the prime minister, addressing both widespread media restrictions in the country as well as the interim government’s plan to continue executing the current economic policy. He inquired about the end of media restrictions, specifically, when would journalists be granted the freedom to speak and write without constraint.
In response, Prime Minister Shehbaz expressed his disapproval of curbs on media freedom but deflected responsibility to Federal Minister for Information & Broadcasting Marriyum Aurangzeb. Aurangzeb, while acknowledging the need to distinguish between politics and the authority of the state, emphasized that the two should be treated separately.
In a conversation with The Current, Chaudhry revealed that he was reportedly told by PTV right after the conference that he would not be invited back to his regularly scheduled program Ba-khaber, of which he is one of the pioneer journalists since 2022.
He also shared that he was informed earlier in the day that PTV would be doing a panel program after the press conference with two other journalists, Sajjad Mir and Salman Ghani. However, after his questions to PM Shehbaz, he was taken off-air and told that he was no longer with PTV.
Many news platforms have reported that Azam Chaudhry lost his contract with the state channel; he asserts that he never claimed to be an employee of PTV. He was working as a freelance journalist, with an ‘approval letter’ stating he would be paid PKR 18,000 per program appearance (for Ba-khaber), for three programs per week.
According to Chaudhry, the moment the press conference concluded, PTV verbally conveyed to him that he would not be invited back to present on Ba-khaber, so he could take his leave.
Speaking to The Current, Chaudhry chuckled at how well-punctuated his point at the press conference became after his dismissal. “I talked about freedom of expression at the press conference, and I was off-aired right after – it proves my initial point [of ongoing media restrictions]”.
Ironically enough, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar was reportedly discussing his government’s media-friendly policy at the very same press conference, chiding the previous Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government for only inviting “chosen journalists” to media interactions. According to the Tribune, however, leading journalists from prominent English dailies were excluded from this particular press conference.
Marriyum Aurangzeb tweeted earlier that the story is “completely false and baseless”. She reiterated Dar’s point of the previous PTI government being declared a ‘Press Freedom Predator’ by Reporters Without Borders, and only allowing selected reporters and journalists to its press conferences.
In conversation with the Express Tribune, Chaudhry said journalists in Pakistan were operating in a “very suffocating environment”, where they were not allowed to express themselves freely.
“I was not fired on establishment’s orders, I was fired by this government, but in the larger scheme of things, people would blame them.” he said, adding that this tenure also “exposes Pakistan People’s Party and their claims of being upholders of democratic principles”.