Cartoonist Sabir Nazar
Cartoonist Sabir Nazar |
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Pakistani channel Samaa TV tells Sabir Nazar, a leading voice in political satire, you are ‘put on hold’.

New Delhi: Liberal Pakistani cartoonist Sabir Nazar has been asked by Samaa TV news channel, where he was a contributor, to stop making cartoons for it.

The channel sent Nazar an email to this effect three days ago.

“The exact words were ‘put on hold’,” Nazar told ThePrint in a telephone interview, adding, “It was shocking for me. I don’t know what the reason was, they just said due to the ‘current situation’ in media.”

As the editorial cartoonist at The Express Tribune, Pakistan, and having contributed to a number of publications like The Friday Times, Dawn and Pakistan Today, Nazar is one of the country’s foremost voices in political satire. His work is consistently critical of the prevailing government, bringing to the forefront issues like corruption, terrorism and religious extremism.

Nazar, who tweeted about the development Friday, maintains he posted on social media merely to inform colleagues, followers and others in the industry that he was no longer working with Samaa TV.

“I don’t wish to pursue this matter further,” he told ThePrint, and referred to the friendship he shared with his editor Mahim Maher.

When contacted by ThePrint, Maher said she was not in a position to officially comment on the issue.

Also read: This Pakistan journalist chats with goats, interviews buffaloes, and is a viral sensation

Financial woes or intolerance?

The ‘current situation’, Nazar said, could be referring to the financial crunch being faced by Pakistani media today, which has resulted in widespread layoffs and budgetary restrictions.

As of November this year, it was reported that at least 500 journalists had been let go from various news organisations in the past eight months. The Jang Group also fired 600 employees in one fell swoop in December.

However, Nazar’s criticism of the ruling establishments could also have been a factor in his exit.

“At one time or the other, your cartoons become controversial because of the current political situation,” Nazar said, adding that having done these kinds of cartoons for 29 years, he has grown accustomed to facing pressure and being targeted by trolls.

“Whenever a new government comes, they think they are now the engine, so why criticise them. That’s not new, it’s every government, whether it’s Nawaz Sharif, PTI (Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf), or even Musharraf,” he said.

Pakistani journalist Mehmal Sarfraz, who was once Nazar’s editor in The Daily Times, believes it was pressure from the government that led to Samaa halting Nazar’s work.

“Sabir makes not controversial but hard-hitting cartoons, he’s very politically savvy, he knows what’s going on,” Sarfraz told ThePrint.

“He’s critical in his tweets, and very vocal about taking on the establishment, whether it’s the PTI now or other governments before. I think Samaa could not bear the pressures from the power and the establishment. Somebody must have given them a message,” she added.

Matiullah Jan, a journalist who was fired from Waqt TV in October this year, took to Twitter after Nazar’s announcement.

“Your cartoons have formed the government and they are now in headlines. So they can no more be shown in cartoons,” wrote Matiullah Jan.

Rising censorship

It isn’t merely the lack of funding that has crippled Pakistani media. Insiders say that unlike in China, where press regulation is a state affair, Pakistan’s self-censorship emerges from something far more insidious — fear.

As the grip of Pakistan’s judiciary and military increases over state institutions, the country’s free press has been systematically silenced through intimidation and coercion.

On 30 December, Islamabad-based lawyer Babar Sattar tweeted a link of his article, with the comment that it was “Another column The News couldn’t publish due to non-pressure on media”.

For Sarfraz, the financial stranglehold of the media is “just another way that the establishment can exercise their control without direct orders”.

The blackout of Geo TV in April, limiting the distribution of publications in target consumer areas, and the fall of QMobile as a significant advertiser for media houses are some of the setbacks plaguing Pakistani media today.

E.P. Unny, cartoonist at the Indian Express, said censorship can happen anywhere, and India is no exception.

“Pakistan has a strong and robust tradition of cartoons, and this kind of censorship can happen here also,” Unny told ThePrint.

“Like the Madras high court judgment this year stated that a ‘cartoonist has a right to ridicule’ and it is his and her professional right. After that, it all depends on how the authorities choose to view it. Censorship is on the rise, and not just here or Pakistan, but everywhere,” he added.

Also read: In order to survive, Pakistan’s media often plays dead in front of the military


*The copy has been edited to more accurately reflect Maher’s statement to ThePrint.


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