Sunday May 26, 2024

State of the media

By Editorial Board
February 03, 2022

The Pakistan Media Freedom Report — 2021' released by the Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors on Monday paints a portrait of a media landscape that is unremittingly grim, with space for free expression having shrunk even further under the PTI government. Most journalists in Pakistan will testify that this is indeed the truth. From violent attacks on the media – five journalists lost their lives in the line of duty in 2021 – to increasing censorship, to the stress of unemployment due to layoffs as the media faces a crippling financial upheaval partly due to the pandemic, to journalists simply being asked to leave organisations under pressure, to the targeting of the media owner of the largest media group in the country, the report is a window to an immensely challenging year for journalism in the country. The report has also specifically mentioned the toll the pandemic took on journalists, with nine having died due to Covid-19.

The relationship between the state and the media in Pakistan has always been a tense one. However, the current government led by PM Imran Khan has shown an alarmingly consistent disdain for anyone in the media it perceives as critical of government policy. The all-powerful state was hardly ever welcoming of scrutiny and seems to have only become more intolerant, helped along by a government that revels more in mocking journalists’ fears than providing them safety. The primary duty of a responsible, professional journalist is to report truthfully. That would include reporting where the state and government are going wrong. When intimidation forces media organisations to self-censor, when violence is instigated against individual reporters, and informal pressure is put on newspaper and cable distributors to disrupt media organisations that do not toe the official line, the end result is a media that is fearful of doing its job. Worryingly, social media too – the only space left for independent journalists to continue their work -- has been the target of the government's ire the past few years, leading to even less space for marginalised voices.

The fact is that media freedom in Pakistan has been under assault for a while, and the solidarity needed to resist that has been weakened via a deliberately deployed divide-and-rule strategy. We may have come a long way from the days of one state-owned television channel but, as the CPNE report shows, we still have a long way to go before we can say that Pakistan’s journalists are truly free to do their jobs -- without risking their lives.