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Thursday June 13, 2024

Media rights bodies say journalists face increasing restrictions

Journalism in Pakistan is “under threat” according to the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), which launched its 22nd annual South Asia Press Freedom Report

By Our Correspondent
May 04, 2024
A representational image showing people holding placards for journalists rights. — AFP/File
A representational image showing people holding placards for journalists' rights. — AFP/File

KARACHI: Journalism in Pakistan is “under threat” according to the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), which launched its 22nd annual South Asia Press Freedom Report on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day — observed annually around the world every May 3.

IFJ’s report calls Pakistani journalists “punching bags” in the fight between former prime minister Imran Khan and the establishment. The report says that 60 journalists were issued legal notices during the year in analysis while dozens were arrested and remain in custody, about eight journalists were charged with sedition, terrorism and incitement to violence, adding that most of the cases were against journalists who were supporters of Imran Khan and his party.

Per the report, access to information and freedom of expression was restricted while the government failed to create a safety commission to protect journalists. “The economic situation of the media in Pakistan was also bad. People were fired from the media and their wages were cut,” adds the IFJ report.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) too does not shine a favourable light on the state of press freedom in Pakistan. According to the 2024 World Press Freedom Index published by RSF on Friday, Pakistan moved to 152 out of 180 countries on the index, compared to 150 in last year’s index. RSF says that “under the guise of protecting journalism, Pakistani law is used to censor any criticism of the government and the military.”

Pakistani media bodies have continued to fight for greater space for journalists and media organisations. In this regard, the Association of Electronic Media Editors and News Directors (AEMEND) has expressed its determination to continue the constitutional and legal struggle for freedom of expression and to fight against the adverse situation. According to AEMEND, “state and non-state actors are imposing restrictions on television programs, shutting down broadcasts, pressurising for the termination of journalists, creating unnecessary pressures and making illegal demands. Such tactics are increasing by the day”.

AEMEND has also said that Pakistan is included in the list of “most dangerous” countries for journalists “where many journalists have been martyred and disabled for life while performing their duties”. The HRCP called on the state to ensure fair and timely compensation for journalists and media workers, institute mechanisms to protect them from attacks, and hold accountable those who violate the right to freedom of expression. HRCP also said that it was alarmed to learn that prominent journalist Hamid Mir had recently received death threats for his comments online supporting free speech, with little action from state and law-enforcement authorities to hold the perpetrators accountable. Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has assured that the incumbent government would make all-out efforts to uplift the media industry and resolve the issues confronting it. The prime minister, in his message on World Press Freedom Day, also reiterated the government’s maximum cooperation to protect the rights of the media industry as well as media workers.

The PM also urged the collective role of media and other stakeholders to create a conducive atmosphere to ensure smooth media functioning. He said the government firmly believed that freedom of media and expression provided a guarantee for democratic durability. President Zardari also emphasised the need to initiate measures for the safety and security of journalists to enable them to freely report on important issues, without fear. “The constitution of Pakistan guarantees the freedom of the press, however, it is also the responsibility of the media to abide by journalistic ethics and report responsibly and accurately, keeping in view the national interest,” said the president who also stressed the need to provide an enabling environment free of intimidation or harassment to journalists so they could freely express their opinions.The president said that this year’s theme for Press Freedom Day underscored the importance of a free press in creating awareness and educating the people about climate change and its impacts on human life and the environment.