Tuesday July 23, 2024

Pen in peril

By Editorial Board
November 17, 2021

The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) has rightly condemned Federal Minister Asad Umar’s statement in which he accused journalists of colluding with the opposition. The minister even threatened to use force against not only the opposition but the media as well. A free media is vital to a vibrant society – and to democracy. Unfortunately, the use of threats against media professionals has become a regular practice in Pakistan and the level of language that some ministers have been using is declining day by day. For a democratic society it is of utmost importance to keep the rule of law intact and respect all fundamental rights including the rights to assembly and expression. Just a couple of weeks ago, Reporters without Borders (RSF) called on Pakistan to withdraw all draconian laws of regulation that give authorities the right to control and censor any type of message posted on social-media platforms. Media professionals in Pakistan have little recourse to legal aid and with vague definitions of ‘objectionable material’ authorities are already enjoying near-absolute powers.

From abductions and imprisonments to job losses and threats of attacks and violence, Pakistan’s journalists have endured it all over the years. When will it be understood that such dictatorial tactics are a relic of a bygone era – and have no place in the 21st century? The many tools that can be used to restrict media freedom include a wide variety of legislation, such as laws on national security or contempt; in many countries, such laws have already been abolished. We today once again see the country moving towards regressive attitudes regarding journalism, with the press under greater and greater pressure – in a disturbing throwback to the dark days of Gen Ziaul Haq.

The government needs to protect the country’s journalists; hateful comments by government functionaries or regressive application of laws only make the task of journalists harder. Journalists cannot be persecuted for merely doing their job. The fundamental task of a news organisation or a journalist is to report the news. Any news organisation that fails to conduct this task is failing to complete its duty. And any attempts to restrict said right falls under censorship. The country is already standing at the 145th position out of 180 countries on the World Press Freedom Index. Do we really need more reasons to be called a ‘dangerous country for journalists’?