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January 29, 2020

State of the media

Editorial

 
January 29, 2020

While many international bodies have reported on the state of press freedom, one of the most comprehensive reports on the subject has been produced by the Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors (CPNE). The Pakistan Media Freedom Report 2019 catalogues an alarming situation where the media has continued to suffer from direct and indirect intimidation tactics. The report makes it clear that journalists continue to be charged under the Anti-Terrorism Act, Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, and Pakistan Penal Code to criminalise journalistic practice. The numbers are alarming. At least 60 journalists were charged with terrorism alone in the last year in 35 cases. This included 50 journalists booked in Sindh alone. Some court cases too have set a harrowing precedent where courts toe the line of an increasingly authoritarian state apparatus in the country.

It is difficult to see where the guarantees for press freedom in the Pakistani constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are at a time that many journalists have constantly referred to as 'dark'. In an ostensibly democratic setup, the situation continues to be masked under the pretence of political freedom. On the ground, at least seven journalists were murdered while another 15 journalists were attacked in the line of duty in 2019. Threats from various actors – known and unknown – have been getting more severe in recent years, and attacks have continued.

Concerns over the use of the electronic crimes act against journalists are serious ones. But what has been more worrying have been reports of the government trying to come up with special media courts to tighten its grip on the media, as well as reports that state advertisements are used to restrict press freedom. The CPNE has also highlighted how Pemra issues notices to media officials over what they can and cannot say about critical political matters. We have also seen how major media houses have even been threatened by organised mobs recently. The report does well to highlight how and why Pakistan is ranked 142 out of 180 countries in the World Press Freedom Index. For now, the Pakistani journalist has no alternative but to do what it does best: trust its pen.