There is a growing impression that impartiality is irrelevant to modern-day journalism in Pakistan
edia and human rights organisations in Pakistan observed the World Press Freedom Day with great zeal this week and pledged to continue their struggle for press freedom amid growing threats to media workers. However, the biggest challenge ignored by most is ensuring media’s neutrality and impartiality. This is impossible without a commitment on the part of the state to ensure that journalists enjoy personal safety and job security.
The World Press Freedom Day originated from a UNESCO meeting in Namibia, where some African journalists suggested that May 3 be designated as a global holiday to celebrate and safeguard press freedom. The concept was later approved by the UNESCO General Conference in 1993. Since then, May 3 has been recognised annually. Every year, a new theme emphasises a specific facet of press freedom. The 2023 theme is: shaping a future of rights, freedom of expression as a driver for all other human rights.
When in the opposition, the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) components had strongly criticised the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s government for its anti-media policies. After ousting Imran Khan through a no-confidence motion and taking over the government, the coalition has not been much different in this regard. Some even argue that the situation has gotten worse.
Imran Khan and his cabinet had introduced anti-media policies and also tried to promulgate various laws to gag the media. The PTI government had also applied a huge cut on the allocation of government advertisement. This had led to several media houses downsizing their staff and slash salaries by up to 50 percent. This resulted in the unemployment of thousands of journalists across Pakistan, including some famous ones.
The Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors (CPNE) released the Pakistan Press Freedom Report 2022 in January this year. It says that media freedom in Pakistan faced worsening threats in 2022 and that freedom of speech was continuously suppressed. The report highlights the deaths of four media persons: Arshad Sharif, Athar Mateen, Zia-ur Rehman Farooqi and Sadaf Naeem.
The report says anti-media policies and retaliatory practices continue. The CPNE’s Media Monitoring Desk concluded that malicious tactics to suppress media freedom and restrict information accessibility remained unchanged.
Meanwhile, some journalists and their employers seem to have forgotten their role as whistleblowers. They appear to have become the mouthpieces for various political parties and groups. This has resulted in eroding the credibility of the media. Many media houses and journalists are now known as ‘pro-’ or ‘anti-’ this or that instead of being recognised as impartial.
Despite the launch of some new media houses, many journalists have lost their jobs, a portion of their wages and/ or have suffered from delays in payment of their salaries. At the same time, many of them are being threatened by state and non-state actors across Pakistan. They face a new challenge every morning. The biggest challenge under the circumstances will be maintaining impartiality. If journalists continue to play the role of lobbyists, agents and mouthpieces of state and non-state actors and leaders of journalists’ unions serve the interests of media house owners, media freedom will remain a dream that will never materialise in Pakistan.
The writer is a senior journalist, teacher of journalism, writer and analyst. He tweets at @BukhariMubasher