Why should a distinguished publisher like Bloomsbury publish such a book when there is always some Garuda to publish it? This sentiment, which found resonance among a section of people when Bloomsbury India de-platformed the book Delhi Riots 2020 on the day of its launch event, raises pertinent questions on why, even with a rich Indian publishing history, there is a perceived difference between international publishers and Indian ones in the eyes of writers.
This gap in brand perception is, in fact, equivalent to that of India and Bharat, between international publishing houses that have set up offices here and our own indigenous ones. When Penguin set up its offices in India in the 1980s, it was a joyous moment for writers in the country as they now had a multinational brand at their doorstep for their dream stories to take the shape of a book. Indie publishers had been there for centuries but they were either dedicated to Hindi and regional languages or the few that published in English could not provide an international platform to writers.
There was also a big difference in the quality of production between books published by an international publisher and those by an Indian publisher. International publishers also brought in a large collection of some of the best international books they published at reasonable prices. In addition, they dedicated resources to scout for local writing talent and to build a list of indigenous writers, which further helped penetrate the Indian market.
Penguin coming to India was perceived as an opportunity for Indian writers to get noticed and established in the US and the UK. With every passing decade, a new international publisher set up offices locally and entered the Indian market with its set of international writers. Simultaneously, it also built a list of local authors. Writers form the backbone of a publishing list and having some big names adds tremendous value to a publishing brand. Even after four decades of operating in the Indian markets alongside international publishers, indie publishers struggle to be given preference over international ones by writers.
When asked why writers prefer international publishers over indie publishers, Niti Kumar, Senior Vice President, Penguin Random House India, said she feels that this isn’t a general rule per se. Thomas Abraham, Managing Director, Hachette, too isn’t sure they do, adding, “Because we do have strong local brands; and let’s not forget most internationally-owned publishers are completely Indian too. The days of the liaison office or expat-run companies or editorial departments are over.” Thomas further adds, “But, yes, the lure of longestablished imprints, where you join a stable of renowned authors or are part of a long chain of landmark writing, is understandable. When you are published by John Murray (the world’s oldest trade publisher), or Hachette or Hodder, you are following a tradition that published Charles Darwin or Madame Bovary or Jane Austen or, even on the commercial side, genre definers such as Love Story, The Saint, Enid Blyton, Ludlum, etc, so that might play a part. But strong imprints have been built here too. Kali for Women was definitely comparable to a Virago, for instance.”
Kumar further says, “A well-researched writer will and should choose a publishing house that will best understand and represent his/her work and that could be an international publishing house or an indie publisher. In India, Penguin has a rich legacy of over 30 years. And this legacy, alongside the editorial, sales and marketing talent we have, makes us a compelling choice for authors.” Kumar also feels that the criteria to choose a publishing house should be beyond just its global presence or stature and more about its sensibilities which are best suited to bring the author’s vision to life.
From the socio-economic point of view, international publishing houses setting up offices here in India should have led to local players improving the quality of their books to match the international ones, learning from the knowledge and insight gained out of operating in the same market. However, even after 40 years since the first international publishing house set up its India offices, we are yet to see a considerable and favourable shift in the publishing preference of writers towards indigenous publishers, especially the big names, unless it is for translations of their book.
Why does this divide continue?
In the world of branding and marketing, international publishers have definitely had an advantage with their brand image due to an international presence. But there are also these key factors that help build a brand image:
Editorial Quality: For a publisher in any language, it is imperative that the books are error-free. This is not only about cleaning text of grammatical errors but also about engaging with writers to enhance the nuances of the language to add to the delight of the readers. Apart from having a command over language, the excellent quality of editors that are hired post standard language skill tests also ensure skills to identify and commission what would add to their publishing list in terms of content, quality of writing and profile of the writer.
Production Quality: The perceived value of the price paid for a book, while measured by what the readers think of the author, also depends a lot on the quality of pages, the fonts, layouts and cover designs. There are well laid out standard practices followed internationally to ensure that the quality is not compromised upon.
Distribution: There are primarily two aspects to distribution: first, that of sustaining long credit periods; and, second, being able to grab a bigger space on the shelves with more profitable and popular titles.
Marketing and Publicity: Strong writing and great packaging backed by the right amount of publicity for their books ensures that publishers command better recall in the media.
Deep pockets: Publishers need to have the ability and intent to offer big advances to writers and to sustain bigger teams and overhead costs. Indie publishers have been slow to up their game over the decades. They have largely remained disorganised and continue to be mostly family-owned, which limits their abilities to create clearly marked systems and processes, especially in the areas of editing, production and marketing.
The cumulative effect of compromising on quality in the production and packaging of books has led to a contrary image in the eyes of the media, which is key for carrying forward word-of-mouth publicity. It has also widened the gap as the volume of books being published by the international publishers in India has increased considerably over time. Another very important factor that has played a vital role in a greater brand perception of international publishers is the perceived access to international availability and publication in the US, UK and Australia which comes with being published by their offices in India.
On this matter, Thomas Abraham of Hachette says that there is a difference between ‘presence’ and being ‘made available’. He says, “So, we offer books to our group companies, but Hachette is known for a very federal approach and there is no tokenism of any sort or regional quotas. If the companies there want to pick a book, they do so because they like it and because they believe it will work for their market. Just like we offer our UK/US books here but will pick just a few here based on what we feel will work in this market. All of publishing runs on curation.” Niti Kumar of Penguin Random House shares, “Books do need to have a local relevance and cultural appeal.” She adds that publishing with a global company like PRH does open up opportunities for content to enter markets outside India; however, the decision is far from an automatic one. Kumar further says, “Each market and territory makes carefully considered choices about the books they will publish or distribute and these are in line with what audiences in that territory want to read.” Thomas, one of the doyens of Indian publishing, adds that any writer, who labours under the myth that being published by an international publisher automatically gets them international presence, is very much mistaken. He further adds, “Look back at the last 50 years and see how many books have travelled from a local international company to the West. Yes, there are export catalogues and books being ‘made available’, and today eBooks ensure that your book is visible, but there is no substitute to being locally published in a market. I’d say 99% of Indian books that are published abroad are from the Western route of agenting.”
The Indian Resilience
Despite tough competition from international publishers entering India with big monies, some indie publishers did foresee a need for change and have managed to compete well with international publishers. Publishers such as Rupa and Westland started by focusing on the above factors. With the passing of years, Rupa also launched a literary publishing arm called Aleph and Chiki Sarkar launched Juggernaut, and both have been able to capture the attention of some established writers and big names in the writing world. There are also indie publishers such as Vitasta, Srishti and Roli, which have been consistently working towards bringing out books that go on to become bestsellers.
All these publishers have not only competed in quality but have also been able to establish some big-ticket writers and bestsellers from their publishing houses. Though they continue to lose some of the writers they established to big international publishers, again due to the perceived brand power. For example, Preeti Shenoy, Ravinder Singh, Durjoy Dutta, Novoneel Chakraborty and a few others were first published and established as a brand by Srishti, but the publisher lost Durjoy and Singh to bigger international publishers. Renu Kaul, Publisher, Vitasta, an indie publisher, shares, “It’s not been easy. As independents, we have to compete with the big publishers for everything, right from the manuscripts, to shelf space to media attention.” She adds that, because most authors still suffer from a colonial hangover, the indie publishers invariably lose them to big brands.
Another challenge, she says, is: “Unlike the big ones, we cannot give hefty advances nor do we have budgets to market our books. Despite all these constraints, we give the bigger publishers a good fight.” Arup Bose, Marketing Head of Srishti Publishers, confirms, “International publishers have their strengths, like a bigger and international catalogue of books and authors, plus more resources.” Bose adds that they are a platform for debut authors and have published many titles which have become bestsellers soon after publication. These indie publishers also enjoy the freedom that apparently, and especially given the current Bloomsbury controversy, international publishers don’t. Kaul says that the joy of being in complete control of what and how you want to publish makes up for all the competition.
She adds, “All these growing years, we have tried very hard to give the term ‘independent publisher’ a meaning, we have dared entrenched systems and succeeded in making a dent in the process of thinking; several of our books have influenced national policy changes.” She also says that since they are small, it is easier for them to resist pressure, recalling the time when Vitasta published a political biography of Rabri Devi when Lalu Prasad, who wielded a lot of power in those days, wanted some chapters removed. “Because I was small, I think I could resist the pressure. Big ones come with baggage and therefore have to be politically correct.” The representatives of both Vitasta and Srishti almost unanimously voice that smaller indie publishers score over big international publishers in their quicker turnaround time. Bose says, “Like most indie publishers, we have a comparatively smaller chain of command, and hence, decision making is faster. We remain more connected to not only the ground realities in our organisation, but within the industry as well.” Kaul adds, “Each of our authors and their books get an equal share of attention. So the authors feel much at ease with us. And I believe because we work closely with our authors, there is less trust deficit.”
Another fact remains that, barring Penguin, very few readers identify writers with their publishing brands. What they do identify is a good story, told well, and a book with an author name that looks good on the shelf. But a publishing brand does matter to the writers, media, retailers and the festival and award organisers. Indie publishers are also able to provide books at competitive prices which are, at times, given the overhead costs of international publishers, difficult to achieve for them.
Some indie publishers also have a better reach and market penetration with the ability to reach bookstores in the remotest parts of the country. And yet, we see only a few big names in the English writing world entrusting their books with indie publishers.
The Way Forward
Today, some part of this problem may have been answered through digital sales and social media and digital platforms to help spread the word and connect directly with end readers, where some of these indie publishers do much better than the international ones. But the media is important for adding credibility and building an image for a writer, and the media prefers books published by international brands over indie publishers for its books pages. But things are moving towards a change.
If more indie publishers continue to put effort into investing in quality editors, production and marketing, this bias will change, and is beginning to already. In order to assure writers of an international presence, tying up with indigenous small publishers in the US, UK and Australia would help greatly.
Brand building is a continuous and long term process and indie publishers need to focus on building a strong brand identity that’s global in its outlook and presentation. Given that the publishing industry plays an important role in shaping the past, present and future of any country through literature, it is imperative that it remains free of biases and encourages all kinds of opinions and voices. But to really break this divide over why choose a distinguished publisher over a Garuda, the need of the hour is for indie publishers to start working towards building the brand perception so that writers don’t shy away from going vocal for local.
Founder of MarketMyBook, Lipika Bhushan has 15 years of experience in heading marketing in leading publishing houses. She also hosts a YouTube programme called ‘Between The Lines’.
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FASHION WAS NEVER A PLAN B FOR ME: RANNA GILL
NEW DELHI: Fashion designer Ranna Gill recently joined NewsX’s special series NewsX India A-List . She gave an insight into her journey and shared how the pandemic has impacted the fashion industry.
An alumnus of the prestigious Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, Ranna Gill launched her label ‘Ranna Gill’ two decades ago. Over the years, she has carved a space of her own in the Indian fashion industry. Ranna recently joined NewsX’s special series NewsX India A-List and spoke about not only her journey but also how the pandemic has impacted the fashion industry.
Speaking about how the pandemic has impacted her label and how she overcame the challenges, Ranna said, “We are still fighting. The challenges were big. We overcame them a little bit and then we came back to the fighting ground again. We have two businesses, so we have an export business in the United States and then we have stores and retail in India. So, we kind of need to paddle both. When this side of the river is stormy, we jump to the other side. We kind of need to paddle both sides and somehow try to come out of it, get out of the troubled water and we will.”
When asked about the brand ‘Ranna Gill’ and how was it conceptualised, she responded, “It is a lot of work. I started this brand with my mother, so the company is owned by my mom and me. I always loved fashion as a young student. I went to fashion school, it was my passion, it was my first love. It was what I always wanted to do so it’s not a plan B. It’s not like I wanted to be something else and I just rolled into fashion. I studied fashion. I have got bachelors in fashion from FIT New York, so I am a student of fashion and as well as a fashion designer. So, I have trained in fashion and I have always loved it. Even to this date, after having done designing for over twenty years, I still get excited when I look at products when I look at fashion I look at colours. Colours to me are like what candy is to children. It’s just such a special treat to look at the colour palette, to look at swatches, to dip die, to look at textures. Prints are an important USP to our brand. Even now, I am wearing a print from my collection. I love prints, the play of prints, and colours. We like to do easier, more playful, more ready to wear bodies, using these tools. We always stay closer to the story, what it is speaking, what the brand is speaking to its customers. You will always see colour in our collection and you will always see prints in our collection.”
Talking about the trick or mantra behind increased online sales amid the pandemic, she said, “I think it’s mostly product and the price point. It’s not very expensive, not very pricey and it’s not very difficult to wear. You don’t need to think of an occasion before coming onto our website or our stores to buy a line. To buy our products, whether it is a blouse, a tunic or a dress, you can always buy them over this weekend or two weekends down. You can wear it in the summer or bring it up in the falls. I think the product is always the king and we stay close to our language or the message we are sending to our customers. We don’t pivot from sarees to sometimes go on to make a blouse. We are always going to make the blouses, the dresses and tunics and that’s what we are going to always be designing into and circling back to. I think the product is crucial, that helped us through this time, price point, sensible pricing. sensible making of products. It’s not too fashionable that it won’t be relevant next year or two years down the line. So it’s all of those things that we kind of always come back to.”
Finally, when asked about the lessons she learned during this phase and future plans for her brand, she said, “We want to 100% focus on our online business. That is where we are headed and that I think is the future. Having said that I think we can bring more to our stores maybe. I am a little old school but I still think that they are very lovely to come to our shop. The customer has this special feeling. When she comes to our store, the girls know her she wears the garment so I think it’s going to be a bit of both. It’s really not going to be some clear messaging but at the moment it’s online, of course.”
She added, “There have been some really hard learning lessons. I think one has to for all of us. For our brand, it was just mainly we just decided to fight for the brand. We were not going to give it away or let it go and we just kind of all held hands. When did our business quietly and just fought for what we stood for so many years? One thing we learnt in our business, is working via technology. In the past, we used to take a flight and go to any place and really quickly. We would meet a buyer or meet or go to fashion fair or meet. I feel that one of the great learning is that we all got out of this phase was using technology for fashion, for all streams of business, even to connect with friends and family and fighting for your own business. Those were the two big learnings for me.”
When a selfless approach was needed to fight Covid-19, corruption ruled the roost. A grocery shop owner fleeced customers. A pharmacist hoarded life-saving medicines. Even a crematorium wasn’t spared.
Kautilya sat down to write ‘Arthashastra’, one of the first books of economics in human history, some 2,300 years ago. And he ended up writing a whole chapter on ‘corruption’. He famously said, “Just like it is impossible not to taste a drop of honey that you find at the edge of the tongue, it is impossible for a King’s officer not to eat up a bit of King’s revenue.”
Essentially, it means that even as long ago as in 300 BC, we were rampantly corrupt and as a society, we exploited whatever individual power we had. Kautilya implied that for Indians, the very human nature itself poses corruption. Time and again it was proved in our history. Kingdoms grew or fell through some strategic corruption of individuals who switched sides at a critical time. Even the British India Company walked over this sub-continent and established the rule of Britain over us because we could be corrupted easily, and it was so effortless to divide us and rule.
Transparency International, which places us in the list of nations as a very corrupt society, remarked that over 92% Indians have been exposed to and/or indulged in corruption of either giving or receiving or both at some point in their lives. As a society, we indulge in it as a casual act of convenience. And then, we complain about it, make a fuss and cry wolf.
WHY CAN’T THE GOVERNMENTS ABSOLUTELY WIPE OUT CORRUPTION?
So, whether it is Kautilya’s ‘Arthashastra’ or a review by an international organisation, we have had an indisputable image as a corrupt society that can hardly be changed. In these 2,500 years, we have had several types of governments ruling over us — kingdoms, monarchies, dynasties, Sultanats,foreign colonisation, and democracies. There have been benevolent rulers, autocratic usurpers, people’s leaders, men of the sword, and religious oppressors, you name it and we have had it. But how come any form of government or system of rule could not bring down corruption through force, legislation, counselling, or any other means for thousands of years? Haven’t we punished people enough? Well, the country has historically practised capital punishment, dismemberment of limbs, jailing, public humiliation, seizing of property, and all kinds of punishment for corruption over centuries and millennia. Yet, as a society, we are as corrupt as we have been for thousands of years.
This essentially means that it is not the government or the law which is weak and unimaginative in bringing down corruption. It is just that as people, we are too strong and imaginative to remain corrupt by all means. The people perpetuate corruption as a means of convenience. And morally, we do not attach shame or guilt to being corrupt. Corruption is our blood trait. Corruption is more of people’s character in definition than being social malice that the governance can totally get rid of. What has stayed so for years shall remain the same in the coming years, unless we change at an individual level.
During these testing times, when a selfless and sincere approach was needed to fight the Covid-19 pandemic, this trait of corruption ruled the roost. A grocery shop owner fleeced customers citing short supply. A pharmacist hoarded life-saving medicines. A piece of basic equipment like a pulse oximeter suddenly disappeared from stores and if available, was sold at a much higher price. Black marketing of oxygen cylinders wreaked havoc on several families in dire need of oxygen. Even a taxi driver charged hefty sums from passengers. This shows that we can exploit any opportunity for money or material. And by stooping this low, we have also defeated all the good works of a large section of people during these difficult times. Individuals, organisations, even political parties, in their own capacities, have been providing free food, medicines, ambulances, oxygen, and all possible support to the needy but they were easily eclipsed by the rampant corruption surrounding us.
In the Covid era, we have seen that corruption has reached the zenith. It is not exaggerating to say that during the times of the pandemic, we have ‘corona’ated corruption and installed it on the throne. Corruption thrives at the juncture of power. And power need not be political or administrative or of any high order. And if the opportunity is critical, rendering the other one helpless, distressed, and weak in some manner, it is all the more easier to exploit the situation. And coronavirus pandemic has become a golden goose of benefit for the heartless, unscrupulous, and ruthless.
People of all stature — from the rich and resourceful to the ones struggling to meet their ends — had to fight this corruption alongside fighting the deadly virus. It was widely reported that once you reach the hospitals, in the hope of some relief and cure, corruption widened its wings. Finding a hospital bed for the patient proved to be a Herculean task and in several cases, the hospital beds were hoarded by unscrupulous agents in connivance with the hospitals. Negotiating for an ambulance to take the critical patients to came as another shocker. News reports of ambulance operators charging Rs 20,000 to Rs 40,000 for ferrying patients to short distances of a few kilometres describe this moral corruption in the most absolute terms.
In our country, where total private infrastructure accounts for nearly 62% of all of India’s health infrastructure, it is easier for corruption to thrive at every level of the system. Medical staff were found refilling empty Remdesivir bottles with fake drugs and selling them to patients not only at a premium but also risking their lives, remorselessly. Patients and their families were cheated with fire extinguishers in the name of oxygen cylinders just when they needed oxygen to save the lives of their loved ones.
These instances are just the proverbial tip of the iceberg. The deep-rooted corruption at the health services goes up to kickbacks given to the health workers to please them and secure better services, thefts of medical instruments and medicines from the hospitals that are sold at a premium outside the hospitals. This ethical and moral bankruptcy have even driven them to the extent of recycling and selling bio-medical wastes like used face masks, PPE kits, and gloves for the sake of a few pennies. Hospitals were also found charging exorbitant fees from Covid patients.
And if one thought this face-off with corruption would end here, a rude shock awaited. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, who would have ever thought of corruption in the cremation grounds. Families of the deceased were charged up to Rs 25,000 to Rs 30,000 for cremating the bodies that used to be a matter of less than Rs 5,000 on normal days. The cost of woods and ghee spiralled through the sky as bodies queued up at crematoriums.
I began this article by saying that corruption is a blood trait of people. There is very little that anyone can do to remove evil from our surroundings if people act beyond the sanctity of morality. A thing that was never effectively curtailed for centuries will only increase and occupy the centre stage of our lives when people patronise it, benefit from it, and silently subscribe to it.
The present government under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has effectively shown how a system can be run without corruption. Having served for 20 years as head of the governments — in Gujarat and then at the Centre — without even a charge of corruption, PM Modi has an impeccable, clean character to inspire our generation to adopt honesty as their way of life. Unfortunately, even the high degree of honesty and morality of our Prime Minister failed to influence our society and proved that corruption was indeed our blood trait.
Governments can only help people’s will to change. But if they don’t want to change, there is no power with anyone anywhere to pull us out of the intricate mess that we have created for ourselves. Let us pledge not to exploit humanity with greed.
The writer is Chairman, Khadi & Village Industries Commission, Government of India. The views expressed are personal.
Corruption thrives at the juncture of power. And power need not be political or administrative or of any high order. And if the opportunity is critical, rendering the other one helpless, distressed, and weak in some manner, it is all the more easier to exploit the situation. And the coronavirus pandemic has become a golden goose of benefit for the heartless, unscrupulous, and ruthless. People of all stature—from the rich and resourceful to the ones struggling to meet their ends—had to fight this corruption alongside fighting the deadly virus.
BORIS JOHNSON TO DELAY LIFTING COVID-19 RESTRICTIONS IN UK
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday is expected to delay lifting of COVID-19 restrictions on June 21 as planned.
Johnson told British media from the G7 summit in Cornwall on Sunday that the government “is looking at the data”, reported euronews. “The roadmap was always cautious but irreversible and in order to have an irreversible roadmap, we’ve got to be cautious,” he added.
England’s four-step easing programme planned for all remaining restrictions on businesses—including pubs, restaurants and nightclubs—and on large events and performances—including weddings and funerals—is expected to be lifted on June 21.
The UK has experienced a surge of new COVID-19 cases in recent weeks, blamed on the spread of the Delta variant.
Nearly 7,500 new infections were recorded on Sunday across the UK, bringing the weekly tally to more than 50,000—a near 50 per cent rise on the previous week, reported euronews.
This is despite the country having one of the highest vaccination rates in the world with 78.9 per cent of the adult population having received at least one dose and more than 56 per cent now fully inoculated.
British health authorities say that the Delta variant is up to 60 per cent more transmissible than the original strain and now represents over 90 per cent of new cases in the UK.
They also stressed last week that although vaccination prevents the risk of severe disease, it does not eliminate it completely or prevent transmission, reported euronews.
PROTESTS IN BERLIN TO MARK SECOND ANNIVERSARY OF HONG KONG UPRISING
On the second anniversary of the pro-democracy uprising in Hong Kong, scores of people including German citizens and Hongkongers jointly organized a protest in Berlin, Germany.
Nearly 100 protestors including representatives of Tibetans and Uyghurs participated in the protest at Alexanderplatz, a large public square in the capital city, on June 12 against the widespread human rights abuse by the Chinese government. Demonstrations were staged in several cities across the globe on Saturday to commemorate the second anniversary of the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong.
Since June last year, the sweeping national security law Beijing imposed on the city is being used to stifle political opposition and anti-government protests.
Ousted Myanmar leader Suu Kyi’s trial begins
More than four months after a military coup took place in Myanmar, the trial of ousted democratic leader Aung San Suu Kyi opened on Monday with critics denouncing the move as a bogus exercise.
Suu Kyi, 75, is facing several cases ranging from the illegal possession of walkie-talkie radios to breaking the Official Secrets Act, Euronews reported. The National League for Democracy (NLD) leader will also appear on Tuesday on sedition charges alongside ex-president Win Myint. “We are preparing for the worst,” one of her lawyers, Khin Maung Zaw, said, as qouted by Euronews. The lawyer also denounced “absurd” accusations fabricated to “keep her off the country’s (political) stage and sully her image.”
Last week, Myanmar’s military junta levelled new corruption charges against the deposed leader and other former officials from her government.
The cases are the latest of a series brought against the elected leader, who was overthrown by the army on February 1 in a coup that has plunged the Southeast Asian country into chaos.
The months-long military crackdown on anti-coup protesters in Myanmar has so far taken over 840 lives, according to the Assistance Association of Political Prisoners (AAPP).
The army overthrew Suu Kyi, saying her party had cheated in November elections, an accusation rejected by the previous election commission and international monitors.
Since then, the army has failed to establish control. It faces daily protests, strikes that have paralysed the economy, assassinations and bomb attacks and a resurgence of conflicts in Myanmar’s borderlands.
Escalating violence across Myanmar including attacks on civilians must be halted to prevent even greater loss of life and a deepening humanitarian emergency, UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet said last Friday.
Bachelet’s appeal follows reports of a continuing military build-up in various parts of the country including Kayah State in the east – where more than 108,000 people have fled their homes in the last three weeks – and in Chin State in the west.
This runs contrary to commitments made in April by Myanmar’s military leaders to regional powers ASEAN, to cease brutal violence against civilians which has followed the 1 February coup.
Pakistan continues assault on civil liberties by attacking press
As Pakistan continues to stifle freedom of speech, the country is pursuing an unrelenting assault on journalism as scribes are fired, harassed and assaulted for their critical reporting.
Umer Ali writes for DW news agency that the military and its intelligence services are among the more “sensitive” entities in Pakistan and so they don’t like being named. Due to that, the journalists use a range of phrases, such as ‘the establishment’ for the military, the ‘agriculture department’ for the Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) and ‘trips for northern areas’ for enforced disappearances. Highlighting the brutal assault on Pakistani journalist Asad Ali Toor and the shooting of Absar Alam outside his home for criticising the military, Ali noted that no progress has been made to arrest the culprits despite Islamabad being known for its extensive surveillance camera system.
In July 2020, another prominent journalist, Matiullah Jan, was abducted from outside his wife’s school. However, his kidnapping was caught on camera and he was released later after a severe backlash.
The attacks on journalists are part of a broader assault on civil liberties in Pakistan, as several human rights activists and opposition politicians face arrests and ‘treason’ charges, Ali wrote for DW.
Moreover, the Imran Khan-led government has continued a policy of gaslighting the journalists, which was noticeable when during an interview, Pakistan’s minister for information bragged about taking notice of the latest attack on Toor. He also alleged that it’s “fashionable” in the western media to accuse the ISI and that individuals about Pakistan’s intelligence agencies “lie” to “get immigration”. According to Umer Ali, Khan’s government is pursuing a journalist protection bill, in a similar duplicitous fashion, as well as an ordinance to establish a “media development authority”, which has been unanimously condemned by journalist and rights bodies as “draconian in scope and devastating in its impact.”
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