Fact-Check: Online Harassment Based On Doctored Subtitles

Fact-Check: Online Harassment Based On Doctored Subtitles
The supporters of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) have initiated a campaign to accuse journalists from Naya Daur TV and The Friday Times of incitement to violence.

PTI affiliated twitter users claimed that journalists Raza Rumi, Najam Sethi and Murtaza Solangi were "inciting state violence" against PTI and that they argued for “brutal crackdown on political workers as the only solution as opposed to dialogue”, on Naya Daur TV’s show Khabar Se Aagay. The video clip used for this campaign was streamed on May 14, 2022 — months before the recent showdowns between the government and PTI supporters took place. The online conversation can be viewed in full here.

In the extracted clip, Raza Rumi’s words have been erroneously translated as saying "such things should be dealt with by force", when what he actually said in Urdu was "such things should be dealt with sternly [under the law]" as opposed to "with force". To be more precise, the sentence was:

"ایسی چیزوں کے ساتھ آپ صرف سختی سے نمٹ سکتے ہیں"

The accurate translation would be: "you can only resolve such things with strictness", instead of “using force", as written in the embedded subtitles. In other words upholding the rule of law without fear or favour. In an Urdu context, "Use of force" would be "طاقت کا استعمال", but online propagandists feel they are entitled to take such liberties by distorting the meaning of ordinary words to suit their political beliefs.

Neither Raza Rumi nor Najam Sethi suggested the use of force, and say that this is part of an online harassment and intimidation campaign against them for their critical analysis, which has gone beyond the social platforms.

This specific section of netizens are equating a "shut up call" — a verbal request to ask someone to stop yelling — with a call to physical violence, or with a justification for police brutality or state violence.

This campaign continue the trend of online vilification of journalists. Cases of Pakistani journalists’s harassment, intimidation, and even violent attacks, have been reported for over a decade. Raza Rumi is survivor of an attempt on his life by terrorists which killed his driver in 2014. Najam Sethi was arrested in the 1990s and incarcerated for weeks. Pakistani women journalists including prime time TV news show host Asma Shirazi, Gharidah Farooqi and others have long been subjected to calculated and targeted online smear campaigns.

Pakistan is known to be one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) ranked Pakistan 157 out of 180 on their 2022 World Press Freedom Index. The RSF also ironically labeled former PM Imran Khan a 'predator' and a threat to free media in their 2021 report.