World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN) has strongly condemned “soft censorship” by governments and regulators as a “very serious threat to media independence and the very viability of media companies”. WAN, which is the umbrella organization of newspapers representing more than 18,000 publications and 15,000 online sites in 120 countries around the world, has urgently called for rapid action to stop this blatant repression of media and press freedom.

“Soft censorship” is the practice where governments use financial leverage and regulatory powers -most often stopping advertising– when they find coverage to be “adverse”. The practice is rampant in India as well, with some state governments especially guilty of misusing tax payers’ money to try to pressurize and influence those media entities which criticize them. Some private sector companies also try to intimidate and pressurize the media in this manner and hence try to influence news coverage in their favour.


“Soft censorship is less noticed than direct attacks on press freedom like assaults on journalists,

In fact, the report — ” Soft Censorship, Hard Impact”, released earlier this week — goes into damning detail of the practice, specifying that: “Soft censorship is used to promote positive coverage of—and to punish media outlets that criticize-officials or their actions. It is the practice of influencing news coverage of state bodies and officials and their policies and activities through allocation or withholding of state media spending (subsidies, advertising, and other media contracts or assistance), or selective application of licensing, permits or regulations, to shape the broad media landscape; promote or diminish the economic viability of specific media houses or outlets; and/or reward or punish content produced by individual media workers”.

The report hits the nail on the head, when it points out that the “abusive allocation of government advertising to reward positive coverage and punish critical coverage is doubly pernicious, as taxpayer money and public wealth is used and abused to promote partisan or personal interests”, adding, that “the opaque and purposefully prejudiced use of official advertising subverts both media freedom and public knowledge”.

The report produced by WAN-IFRA and the US-based Center for International Media Assistance (CIMA) has urgently called on governments to fully respect principles of transparent and non-discriminatory state advertising, aid and funding for all media outlets, be it for advertising, training, content, or straightforward subsidies.

“Soft censorship is less noticed than direct attacks on press freedom like assaults on journalists, but is even more widespread,” said Larry Kilman, secretary general of WAN-IFRA. “Soft censorship is pervasive, but not yet recognized for its grave and growing threat to media independence and press freedom.”

Mark Nelson, senior director of CIMA, warned: “Soft censorship can all-too-quietly strangle free media,” adding that “a public that is denied accurate and impartial information is unlikely to be aware of its existence and its pernicious impact on the democratic process.”

This report’s recommendations suggest a path forward that proponents of free and independent media can embrace, beginning with greater transparency and impartiality in all government payments and funding for media, be it for advertising, training, content, or straightforward subsidies.

“With reference of Pakistan’s context this report even does not reflects any clear situation around. But it is understood that our governments democratic and dictatorial regimes both violated media liberties and freedom of expression at large. The reasons what violators presented are firstly the undefined National Interest and other is religious respect. No doubt the second one is case sensitive hence this is suggested that to secure the religious respects there should be some clear lines. ”

WAN-IFRA, based in Paris, France, and Darmstadt, Germany, with subsidiaries in Singapore and India, is the global organization of the world’s newspapers and news publishers, representing more than 18,000 publications, 15,000 online sites and over 3,000 companies in more than 120 countries. Its core mission is to defend and promote press freedom, quality journalism and editorial integrity and the development of prosperous businesses.

The Center for International Media Assistance (CIMA), based in Washington, DC, raises the visibility and improves the effectiveness of media development around the world. The Center provides information, builds networks, conducts research, and highlights the indispensable role media play in the creation and development of sustainable democracies.


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