The people’s voice

 
September 30, 2020

As journalists continue to come under increasing pressure across the country, the Federal Executive Council of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists, at the end of a three-day meeting in Quetta...

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As journalists continue to come under increasing pressure across the country, the Federal Executive Council of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists, at the end of a three-day meeting in Quetta has said that there has been a systematic attempt to curb journalistic freedoms since the current government came to power in 2018. The PFUJ has described this as a disaster for journalism in the country and said that Article 19 of the constitution is being seriously violated. It has called for the meeting of all major bodies involved with the media, including the PFUJ, the APNS, the CPNE and the Pakistan Bar Council, as well as the HRCP to look over the matter and decide on what is the best strategy to move forward.

This is a question that many journalists are asking. A free press is vital to the healthy functioning of any democracy but here the concept of freedom of the media exists more in the abstract than reality. While constitutional protections exist to protect our freedom of speech, these rights are often violated by the state. Even in the absence of outright censorship, the state often muzzles the media by issuing unofficial directives. Pressure is put through the power of the purse, either by withholding advertising or taking news channels off the air. The case of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman, who has remained in prison for what is now approaching almost a year, over a case which dates back 36 years, has been seen by everyone as harassment intended to silence the media house that he runs. There have also been an increased number of cases in which journalists, especially women, have been targeted and attacked by troll teams over social media.

This is not the kind of democracy the people had been promised. It is also true that the world over journalism is under attack by the purveyors of fake news. The rise of social media, and the easy dissemination of unverified news, has made it more difficult to distinguish fact from propaganda. Add to this toxic mix governments that want to control the news and it becomes obvious that a free media the world over is under threat. Keeping this in mind, the Islamabad-Rawalpindi Bar Council has also set up a body to take up cases of journalists who require legal assistance. This is in response to the increasing number of cases being framed against working media professionals. As the Federal Executive Council of the PFUJ has suggested, it is essential that all bodies combine and find a strategy forward so that the media can be freed of its chains, and allowed once again, to become a voice of the people.



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