May 3, 2012
ISLAMABAD: Media freedom is something we have been hearing about ever since Pakistan came into being and today Pakistan’s media is said to be ‘free’.
On World Press Freedom Day, celebrated on May 3 every year, we have totake a good look at Press freedom in Pakistan and ask ourselves have we truly managed to lose the shackles of government, military, political and personal agendas. Is our media really free?
For the better part of it, most journalists have conveniently reduced the World Press Freedom Day into being a tribute to those journalists that have fallen in the line of duty or have been jailed or have been made to disappear. This is all very well and those individuals should indeed be remembered.
But is that the true purpose of World Press Freedom Day?
World Press Freedom Day was established by the General Assembly of the United Nations in December 1993. In what is known as the Windhoek Declaration a call was made to establish, maintain and foster an independent, pluralistic and free press. The declaration emphasized the importance of a free press for developing and maintaining democracy in a nation, and for economic development.
Despite having a rich history of individuals who battled for media freedom; shining examples such as Nasir Zaidi, who was publically flogged for speaking up against the muzzling of media by the military regime of Gen Zia ul Haq in the late 70’s and early 80’s, and Mazhar Abbas, who constantly has spoken up for better rights for the Press in Pakistan, somehow the media does not have the power or capability to be true to their profession.
There is no doubt that the risks involved for journalists in Pakistan are amongst the highest in the world as proved to be the case in 2011 when Pakistan was named “the deadliest country for journalists,” recording six deaths.
According to the ‘Pakistan Press Freedom Report 2012 issued by Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF) on Wednesday, one journalist has been killed in the line of duty in Pakistan while four journalists received life threats, in the first four months of 2012.
Furthermore, a TV channel’s office was attacked, newspaper copies of same media group torched and transmission of Urdu language news channels was blocked.
In its 10th annual Press Freedom Report for South Asia, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), said the year 2011-12 in Pakistan continued to be one of serious hazard.
“Within this frontline state in a global conflict, the combatant parties are many and norms of accountability and international humanitarian law are dishonored by all. Journalists in Pakistan have to steer a perilous course between these hostile elements,” the report said.
Meanwhile, reports from the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) indicate that economic pressures have pushed many journalists to desperation as they are neither paid on time nor get salaries worthy of the work they do. It’s only now that some of the bigger media houses have started providing medical insurance.
There are many constrictions that keep Pakistan’s media from truly being free, ranging from lack of professional capability, to governmental and institutional interference, to personal bias and agendas, ideological and religious beliefs and the fear of violence and retribution.
Are we free?
Not by many miles.
(Ahmed Gul is a freelance journalist)
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