In an attempt to discredit independent media, social media cells close to the government have been circulating a fake letter supposedly written by National Endowment for Democracy (NED) Vice President to the US Ambassador in Pakistan, saying that NED has been helping some media outlets in Pakistan destabilise the country’s government.
The letter is dated 26 October 2021, with a stamp and date of receipt of 29 October 2021.
Twitter accounts, Youtubers and WhatsApp groups have shared that letter as an authentic advice to the US government. NED reacted to this ‘letter’ and clarified that no such letter has been issued. A tweet dated December 1 shared photos of the fake letter claiming that NED has been financing media outlets and opposition politicians to destabilise the current government in Pakistan.
From its official account, NED tweeted, .@NEDemocracy has learned of a fake letter circulating on Pakistani social media, purportedly sent by NED’s VP to the US Embassy in Islamabad. This is disinformation – the letter was clearly falsified (wrong logo, forged signature, typos) & no such document was ever sent.
On November 29, 2021, a Pakistani v-logger/Youtuber published a vlog in which he referred to this letter. That video has been taken down due to the patently fake news it was spreading.
In this video and the letter, Naya Daur Media (NDM) is also mentioned along with bigger networks like Geo TV and Express media group. A new website FactFocus has also been named in this letter.
Later, other accounts have also drawn connections between NED, the Central Intelligence Agency in an effort to discredit Pakistani news outlets as well as journalists as foreign sponsored.
The propaganda apparently has circulated wide enough as a retired general of Pakistan Army, Gen. Shoaib Amjad in a Live TV show cited ‘evidence’ about American support to Nayadaur Media. He stopped short of mentioning CIA.
Naya Daur Media/Friday Times sees this as a brazen attempt at disinformation and intimidation of independent media in Pakistan which has been operating in extremely adverse conditions, as noted by all media watchdogs and international human rights organisations.
Pakistan currently ranks 145th on the Reporters Without Borders’ Press Freedom Index. In 2021, Absar Alam a senior journalist and former head of media regulator was shot in a Park in broad daylight. He survived. Later, Asad Toor, another vlogger was beaten, and unknown men broke into his apartment. Last year Matiullah Jan was abducted from Islamabad. None of these cases have been effectively prosecuted.
The current wave of disinformation is even more worrying, says Raza Rumi, editor TFT. Such disinformation can result in physical violence by government agencies or mobs or causes of legal action, he added.
With the rise of digital technology, all governments and political parties are investing in media cells. “The government must put an end to such campaigns and become more transparent in its support to clandestine propaganda cells,” says Rumi.