‘Please try and stop us’: Journalists respond to Umar’s anti-media speech

PFUJ condemns minister’s threat to journalists, says journalists will be undeterred in commitment to profession

Tensions between the government officials and journalists are nigh after Federal Planning, Development, Reforms and Special Initiatives Minister Asad Umar warned that if journalists began a long march towards Islamabad, they would be ‘beaten black and blue’.

In a public meeting on Friday, Umar accused media personnel of being in cahoots with the anti-government Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM). He said that if the media marched onto the capital city with the PDM, they would be dealt with an iron hand that would be imprinted in their minds.

Umar’s statement created an uproar in the media fraternity with several condemning his remarks. Veteran journalist Mazhar Abbas said that Umar’s statement was ‘deplorable’ and sounded like an ‘open FIR’. Abbas said that journalists had experienced the fascistic, dictatorial rulers as well as oppression by civilian leadership, and told Umar to come and stop journalists from marching on. Abbas said that the remarks were particularly worrisome because they came from a ‘saner voice’.

 

Others were also perturbed that a seemingly reasonable person like Umar was resorting to such threats.

Journalist Talat Hussain, however, didn’t distinguish between the two types of leadership and opined that Umar’s words reflected a ‘deeply fascistic mindset’. He said Umar’s statement was a ‘new low in a long list of insane utterances’ that demonstrated fascism.

In the wake of Umar’s anti-journalist polemic, journalist Benazir Shah said that the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) had previously claimed that the government was not involved in any campaign against the media on online social platforms. She said that Umar’s statements were an ‘incitement’.

Freelance journalist Afia Salam added to the condemnation and said that Umar seemed to be mimicking the language of his leader when he said journalists would be ‘beaten black and blue’.

The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) was particularly taken aback by Umar’s speech and in a statement on Sunday condemned the minister’s words. PFUJ leaders said that they had faced state aggression towards them before and would continue to fight PTI’s attempts to ‘stifle dissenting voices’.

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