Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF) has expressed safety concern over the alarming situation for Pakistani media personnel during COVID-19 pandemic.
The PPF Saturday released World Press Freedom Report on Media Safety and Press Freedom in Pakistan 2019-2020 on the eve of World Press Freedom Day, which will be observed on May 3 (Sunday).
This year, the media in Pakistan, is operating under a new and challenging environment created by the spread of COVID-19. Since the spread of the pandemic in the country, two journalists have died and at least 38 media workers have tested positive, said the report.
The report has detailed the alarming situation surrounding COVID-19 created for the Pakistani media.
According to the report most media organisations as well as the government have not ensured the effective implementation of safety protocols nor the timely provision of personal protective equipment (PPE) to media workers.
A key recommendation of the report is calling on Pakistan’s media associations including the Pakistan Broadcasters Association (PBA), All Pakistan Newspaper Society (APNS) and Council of Pakistan Newspaper Society (CPNE) to develop detailed workable guidelines for all media workers on how to cover the coronavirus safely and to monitor their implementation by their member organisations.PPF has also urged the government to provide support to the media in ensuring the safety of media workers.
The report also discusses factors surrounding press freedom and the safety of journalists in Pakistan during 2019-20 that has seen an increased muzzling of the freedom of expression in a country that has an already weak track record on press freedom.
Between January 2019 and April 2020, journalists in Pakistan worked under increasing restrictions with little accountability of those who limit freedom of expression, continue to target journalists and aim to discredit the work of the media through a range of tools from attacking journalists to placing financial constraints on media outlets as a pressure tactic.
There have also been at least five arrests of journalists. The most high-profile case of a media personnel arrested is the arrest of the Jang and Geo Media Group Editor in Chief Mir Shakil ur Rehman on March 12, 2020. Rehman was arrested by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) irregularities in the purchase of his residential property 34 years earlier, however, it raised concerns about press freedom and appeared to be an attempt to pressurise the largest media group in the country. Despite numerous local and international calls for his release, Rehman remains behind bars.
This already high-risk environment which journalists operate under has been further made difficult by the policies and rhetoric of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government, which in 2019 likened critical media coverage to treason. While Prime Minister Imran Khan dismissed curbs on press freedom in Pakistan as a “joke”, the policies and proposals of the government including media courts and social media regulations, indicate a control over the autonomy of the media.
Meanwhile, Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) on numerous instances provided “advice” to the media which creates controls on what the media can cover and what could be unacceptable.
Newspaper: Daily Times