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.
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-
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
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.