close
Advertisement
Can't connect right now! retry

add The News to homescreen

tap to bring up your browser menu and select 'Add to homescreen' to pin the The News web app

Got it!

add The News to homescreen

tap to bring up your browser menu and select 'Add to homescreen' to pin the The News web app

Got it!
 
April 4, 2021

Freedom of expression

Editorial

 
April 4, 2021

The latest assessment report by Islamabad-based Media Matters for Democracy is a scathing indictment of the situation of free expression in Pakistan. The report says that the country has performed poorly with respect to legal and practical protections for the citizens' right to freedom of expression in 2020. The report takes into account six aspects on an index that assesses legal environment, press freedom, digital expression, pluralism, the socioeconomic and political situation, and protection from threats to expression. The report has just confirmed what the civil society in Pakistan has been pointing out for long: that free expression in the country faces restrictions and the media – electronic, print, and social – faces suspensions and threats from both non-state and state actors. The media has faced crippling censorship; and journalists and other media professionals have remained vulnerable to digital, legal and physical threats. One of the reasons for this is a lack of legislation for the safety of media personnel. In Pakistan, at least eight media persons have lost their lives and 36 have been victims of attacks in the line of duty, whereas the authorities arrested at least 10 media professionals across Pakistan in 2020.

The report for 2020, released on March 31, 2021, provides a comprehensive analysis of the state of freedom of expression in Pakistan. It highlights significant trends in the country that hamper and impact the freedom of expression. The situation of journalists in Pakistan in terms of attacks and the threats they face is particularly alarming. That media professionals in Pakistan have been at the receiving end is no more a secret. Continued harassment and intimidation have become a routine matter and national and international watchdogs have been highlighting these concerns. Then there is the issue of disinformation. There have been many such incidences in which false leads have put the lives of journalists in danger. Now, it is up to the government to take up this matter seriously and ensure appropriate steps to rectify the threats to the freedom of expression in Pakistan.

The report highlights that in 2020 Pakistan’s media and internet regulatory authorities continued to exert arbitrary legal and regulatory restrictions on speech and online content. They ordered bans and suspended programmes and services of certain channels and social media apps. Even entertainment content and news discussions of social and political issues were not spared. For a resilient society, it is of utmost significance that the flow of communication and information channels remain open and work without obstacles. The six dimensions identified by the report are of crucial importance and whenever a country scores low on this index the image of that country is tarnished the world over. Since the report is based on a survey of a panel of experts from the fields of academia, human rights advocacy, law, media and politics, its coverage is comprehensive. It is unfortunate that Pakistan has scored low on all six dimensions and barely managed to garner 30 points out of a total of 100 points on the index. Such indices are a true reflection of any society and with a low score we can’t improve our image in the world. Protection of freedom of expression is primarily the responsibility of both the government and state institutions.