Whither Free­dom of Press?

The press is sup­posed to be free of all shack­les in a liv­ing democ­racy. Un­for­tu­nately, there is much that needs to be ad­dressed on this front in Pak­istan.

Southasia - - Ideology - By Hafsa Ah­san

The world cel­e­brates an en­tire day ded­i­cated to press free­dom on the third of May, each year. This day is fa­cil­i­tated by the United Na­tions Ed­u­ca­tional, Sci­en­tific and Cul­tural Or­ga­ni­za­tion (UNESCO). This coun­try is no dif­fer­ent; yes, the day of press free­dom ap­plies in Pak­istan as much as it does in other coun­tries. How­ever, year af­ter year, the ac­tual free­dom that the press and me­dia have in Pak­istan de­creases sig­nif­i­cantly. And the fu­ture out­look is even bleaker.

In­ter-news is a web­site which rou­tinely pub­lishes dif­fer­ent news and

re­ports re­lated to the press. Their an­nual me­dia re­ports dat­ing be­tween 2000 and 2004 de­tail var­i­ous vi­o­la­tions of press free­dom in Pak­istan dur­ing the spec­i­fied pe­riod. It is a sad state of af­fairs that things like kid­nap­ping, tor­ture and mur­der of re­porters is quite com­mon­place as is the to­tal ban on cer­tain pub­li­ca­tions.

From these me­dia re­ports, one can cat­e­go­rize the vi­o­la­tions of press free­dom in Pak­istan un­der two heads: 1) Vi­o­la­tion the state level. 2) Vi­o­la­tion em­a­nat­ing from in­di­vid­ual groups. At the state level, the main vi­o­la­tion of press free­dom comes about through a com­plete ban on pub­li­ca­tions for var­i­ous rea­sons. The con­cerned news­pa­per or mag­a­zine may have writ­ten some­thing against the state or pub­lished some­thing that ruf­fled its feath­ers. An­other way in which the state can ex­ert its au­thor­ity is through the en­act­ment of laws that cur­tail the free­dom of all the pub­li­ca­tions to pub­lish ma­te­rial they feel the read­ers need to pe­ruse. With re­gards to the elec­tronic me­dia, the state can “black out” all the chan­nels – this be­came very ap­par­ent dur­ing the state of emer­gency de­clared by Gen­eral Pervez Mushar­raf, spark­ing a ju­di­cial cri­sis that went on for quite some time.

At the in­di­vid­ual level, there are po­lit­i­cal par­ties, in­ter­est groups and pres­sure groups, which want pub­li­ca­tions to meet their in­ter­est. If a re­porter clashes with their in­ter­est, they re­sort to co­er­cion in the form of tor­ture and, in ex­treme cases, mur­der. The atro­cious mur­der of the re­porter of a pri-

ini­ti­ated

at vate chan­nel, is a grue­some ex­am­ple of the way in­di­vid­u­als can act to sup­press in­for­ma­tion and clamp down on the im­par­tial work of re­porters.

Re­ports pub­lished by in­de­pen­dent me­dia ad­vo­cacy groups have shed some light on the gross vi­o­la­tions of press free­dom in Pak­istan over the years. A re­port pub­lished by In­ter-me­dia, to high­light the state of the me­dia, be­tween May 2007 and May 2008, re­vealed that: • 15 jour­nal­ists were killed • 357 re­porters were ei­ther ar­rested

or ab­ducted • 123 jour­nal­ists were

as­saulted and/or in­jured • 154 were threat­ened or ha­rassed • There were 18 at­tacks on me­dia prop­erty. Their lat­est re­port, high­light­ing the state of the me­dia be tween May 2009 and May 2010, is not much dif­fer­ent. It shows that: • 10 jour­nal­ists were killed • 10 were kid­napped • 70 were as­saulted • There were10 cases of at­tacks on

me­dia prop­erty • There were also 35 cases of cen­sor­ship or gag­ging or­ders.

Re­ports and other pub­li­ca­tions of In­ter­me­dia can be ac­cessed at: http://www.in­ter­me­dia. org.pk

Pak­istan Press Foun­da­tion, in its 2009 re­port, pub­lished some alarm­ing find­ings re­lated to the vi­o­la­tion of press free­dom. Ba­si­cally, the re­port dis­cov­ered that in 2009, ten jour­nal­ists lost their lives in the line of duty. The great­est dan­ger for re­porters lies in the “con­flict zones.” Those re­port­ing from FATA as well as Khy­ber Pakhtunkhwa are more vul­ner­a­ble to harm at the hands of the var­i­ous “in­ter­est groups” op­er­at­ing there. Some also be­come a tar­get of “sui­cide bomb­ings”. Some notable in­ci­dents be­tween 2008 and 2009 were: 1) Dr. Ab­dus Sa­mad Chishti Mu­jahid, work­ing for the weekly Akhbar-eJe­han was shot in Quetta in 2008 2) Si­ra­jud­din, cor­re­spon­dent of The Nation, died in a sui­cide bomb­ing at­tack in Min­gora, also in 2008. 3) Khadim Hus­sain Sheikh, bu­reau chief of daily Khabrain was mur­dered in 2008. 4) Mo­hammed Ibrahim, re­porter at Ex­press News chan­nel was mur­dered in Ba­jaur in 2008. 5) Musa Khankhel, correspon dent of The News and Geo TV in Swat, was man­han­dled by the se­cu­rity forces. 6) In 2008, Khadija Ab­dul Qa­har, a Cana­dian na­tional, who pub­lishes a web mag­a­zine, was ab­ducted along with two of her Pak­istani col­leagues, when she was gather­ing ma­te­rial for a doc­u­men­tary in the tribal ar­eas.

7) Hasan Ab­dul­lah, an an­chor and re­porter at Dawn News, was de­tained for six hours and re­leased af­ter in­ter­ro­ga­tion. 8) Me­hboob Shah, cor­re­spon­dent at AAJ TV, along with his cam­era­man Mo­ham­mad Sami, were briefly de­tained in one of the ar­eas of FATA. More­over, when

the

state

of emer­gency was de­clared in Pak­istan, a num­ber of web­sites were banned. The of­fices of a pri­vate tele­vi­sion chan­nel, a news­pa­per and two ra­dio chan­nels were raided. The equip­ment of one ra­dio sta­tion was con­fis­cated. More­over, gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials were ap­pointed to “over­see” the con­tents of at least 21 news­pa­pers. To top it all, re­porters who were cov­er­ing the protests against the emer­gency were at­tacked and de­tained. (Source: PPF Re­port).

The en­tire re­port can be down­loaded from: http:// www. pak­istan­press­foun­da­tion. org/ data/ up­loaded/ ppf% 20re­port% 20 2009. pdf.

The cases of press free­dom vi­o­la­tions are too many to cite in a sin­gle ar­ti­cle. How­ever, the main ques­tion is that as the world ded­i­cates a day ev­ery year to cel­e­brate press free­dom, are the rel­e­vant authorities in Pak­istan will­ing to take con­crete mea­sures to en­sure pro­tec­tion for those who are risk­ing their lives to re­port from the neu­tral as well as con­flict zones? Does any­one re­al­ize the im­por­tance of the work these jour­nal­ists are do­ing? If the an­swers to both the ques­tions are yes, then in­deed, there is some hope for the fu­ture of press free­dom in the coun­try. If not, then we can only look for­ward to more de­press­ing me­dia re­ports in the fu­ture. The writer is an As­sis­tant Edi­tor at Hiba Mag­a­zine. She is an avid reader and writes reg­u­larly on me­dia ethics, free­dom of press and global com­mu­ni­ca­tion.

Free­dom of press has of­ten been in jeop­ardy in Pak­istan.

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