According to research by Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF), since 2001, 71 journalists and media workers have lost their lives doing their duties. Of these, 47 have been deliberately targeted and murdered for practicing their profession, while others were killed while covering dangerous assignments. The report pinpoints eight sources of threat to the journalists: militants, political networks, religious parties, ethnic groups, tribal and feudal lords and law enforcement agencies-basically all stakeholders in Pakistan’s politics. The threats include killing, unjustly detaining, abduction and torture.
Yes, this is a dangerous job. Journalists have to tread into dangerous territory to be able to get first-hand information. But the threat to a journalist in Pakistan is mostly not proportional to the incident, and that is the problem. Pakistan is not Syria, or Iraq or Afghanistan.
The state apparatus seems to forget that in its quest to stifle free speech and accountability, the lack of access given to journalists as well as the threats from the state, and threats from non-state actors will continue to make sure that reporting in Pakistan is biased and incomplete. The industry is often criticized for its lax reporting and sensationalism, but when the real issues are kept hidden and out of bounds, and when there is a serious threat to life, only frivolous issues get left behind to be reported on.
To add insult to injury, state bodies like PEMRA keep coming up with newer and stranger codes of conduct. And then added to this, news agencies are expected to self-censor, for fear of violence or fear of getting on the wrong side of the security establishment. And as far as the numerous deaths are concerned, there have been convictions in only two cases out of 384 cases of violence against media according to the PPF.
This is appalling. The media is often hailed as a free, powerful opinion maker; the real situation is far from this.
As rightly said by the PPF, “free media is essential to democracy in Pakistan as it promotes transparency and accountability, a prerequisite of sustained economic uplift.” The impunity enjoyed by those who attack journalists is compromising the quality of information that is provided to the Pakistan citizen. This is a matter of national interest and communal survival. When the media stops being free, when powerful papers and TV channels cannot report, what room is left for the common man’s freedom?