As a profession, journalism in Pakistan is one of the most dangerous ones to be in. The number of journalists killed over the past decade puts Pakistan at the top of countries where it is almost impossible to work freely and fairly as a media person. Despite the challenges, we continue to strive and struggle in a bid to keep our society informed.
It is not just the killing of journalists that is worrisome but the fact that a culture of impunity exists under which the murderers of journalists are
not tracked down or arrested. In most instances, the government has been
unable or unwilling to catch the culprits – this emboldens others to use the same tactics to silence the press. And in some way, they have succeeded in doing so.
None of the killers of the journalists, barring possibly one or two, have been arrested, tried or convicted. Impunity is the failure to guarantee justice and — when it prevails — an invitation for more crime to occur. Timely and thorough investigations of crimes against journalists are important measures to be taken by states in order to set a precedent for other cases.
At least 33 journalists have been targeted and killed “in retaliation for their work” since 1992, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), an independent organisation working to promote press freedom worldwide, has said.
Figures in another report show that 51 killings in Pakistan have been registered in the past 10 years. Based on submissions from the government of Pakistan, the report classifies 16 cases as ongoing or unresolved. It also signals that no information has been received in a total of 35 cases. The files have been closed.
Threats to journalists come from various quarters. Apart from outright killing, we see the use of intimidation and pressure on media persons as a matter of routine when they are reporting on sensitive issues.
A report released by the Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF), a media related organisation, added: “Media houses and media persons are not only being targeted but threatened, pressurised, intimidated and harassed.” Aside from murder and crossfire/combat, CPJ and PPF also record deaths of journalists who were killed while on a “dangerous assignment such as covering political unrest”. The information they gather is not encouraging.
Another area of concern is digital security. A report: “Building Digital Safety for Journalists,” in 2015 revealed that majority of journalists in Pakistan lack digital security training and they are also threatened online by terrorists and militants. Many journalists face such threats as breach of their email data and interception of their online accounts.
This means that the information that journalists collect or work on – sometimes at great personal risk – is also not secure. It can be stolen or used against the journalist.
It was keeping this in mind that our organization – the Centre for Excellence in Journalism – part of the Institute of Business Administration in Karachi is holding a national media conference on April 20-21 on the issue of safety and digital security. We are hopeful that by inviting journalists and media analysts from all over Pakistan, we will be able to discuss and debate the challenges that are affecting our work.
As journalists, we sense that the goalposts in Pakistan are now shifting. The decline in killing of journalists is the best news ever but challenges may be cropping up elsewhere.
Last year, the CPJ in its special report said that it “did not identify anyone singled out for murder in Pakistan because of journalist work” — for the first time in 15 years. The organisation classifies murder as “the targeted killing of a journalist, whether premeditated or spontaneous, in direct relation to the journalist’s work”.
What we are seeing instead is that many Pakistani journalists have resorted to self-censorship or have abandoned the profession altogether to avoid grave risks.
For a vibrant democracy, we need to have a vibrant media. Despite nearly a decade of democratic governments in Pakistan, what we are seeing is that situation for the media has changed for the worse. A large part of the problem is that the government has done little to stop the violence or to seek out those who attack journalists. These are areas where more needs to be done.