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December 16, 2020

Silencing journalism

 
December 16, 2020

According to a recent report by the International Federation of Journalists, no less than 2658 journalists have been killed around the world over the last 30 years. The largest number of killings have come in conflict hit zones, with Iraq featuring the largest number of killings in recent years. But even when a country is not locked in a situation of war, journalists are not safe. Pakistan and its neighbours, India and Afghanistan, figure amongst the top 10 countries seen by the IFJ as being the most dangerous for journalists. In Pakistan, 138 journalists have been killed in 30 years, in India 116 and in Afghanistan 93.

This year, some 42 journalists have died around the world. The number has fallen slightly over previous periods in time, with conflict and invasion often bringing the worst-case scenarios to countries. But even beyond death, journalists face many risks. In the first place, prosecution of those behind the murders is very low around the world. Journalists also face threats, imprisonment, harassment, and other kinds of interventions intended to silence their voice.

In Pakistan, the guarantees for press freedom as held by the constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights seem to now largely be a thing of the past. With more and more journalists likening these times to the dark days of the Zia dictatorship, the situation continues to be under a heavy veil of denial and censorship (to the extent that even talking about media freedom is subject to censorship at times). The threat from the state itself has been getting more severe in recent years and we have seen 'disappearances' used increasingly against journalists. Even those journalists that are posting on social media are subjected to threats and harassment, with women journalists facing an even further degree of harassment. As the campaign, 'Attacks Won't Silence Us', launched by women journalists in Pakistan, highlights, women journalists face daily abuse and even threats of rape and murder online. The situation is similar to quite a few countries around the world, with populist right-wing governments. Global elites seem to have no answer to the problems that plague the public. Instead, they have deigned it better to reign down on press freedom – often in the name of national interest. Journalists could ask for more protection from the government – and they do – but we are entering a time when journalism is fast becoming the enemy and telling truth to power is becoming more dangerous.

When journalists tell their stories of censorship and persecution it is not to glorify themselves but because it is the story of every professional media house in Pakistan that has pushed to keep the flame of free media alive in the country. We have seen journalists killed and disappeared in the country. The rest all live in the knowledge that one story is all it could take for there to be an unwelcome knock on the door.