LAHORE: Censorship in Pakistan appears in many forms, but of them is the worst is: intimidating, threatening, torturing and even killing journalists.

Media analyst Adnan Rehmat said this at a seminar on ‘Media Ethics in the Time of Threat’ on Thursday. The seminar was held by Rozan’s Secretariat of Pakistan Coalition for Ethical Journalism with the Digital Rights Foundation and the Human Right Commission of Pakistan.

Also read: Journalists’ murder

Mr Rehmat said censorship today had become much worse than ever when even cable operators who were not content producers could easily block out channels on their own.

He read out excerpts from his book ‘Reporting Under Threat’, where the compelling personal accounts of three journalists were highlighted. Later these journalists -- Shumaila Jafary (BBC), Rana Azeem (PFUJ), and Yousuf Ali (The News) spoke as part of a panel.

Mr Rehmat said telling stories was important as they helped us understand what the ground reality was. The job of journalists is to tell these stories but they faced several dangers in uncovering these stories.

“A free media is intrinsic of an open society and a democracy, where people can freely communicate and air their opinions and issues,” he said. Unfortunately, he said, journalists were threatened commonly by non-state actors and sometimes by the government too in different ways, and when in 2002 UNESCO recorded that 612 journalists were killed globally, of them 10 per cent belonged to Pakistan.

“Only in 2014, over 100 journalists have been killed, and this is just the tip of the iceberg,” he said.

“But no one from the public knows about this much, nor do they know the inner professional lives of these journalists and how they work under threat,” he said, explaining the purpose of his book.

He said the killing of journalists was a direct attack on the State and on democracy.

Mr Ali said since 2005, when drone attacks and military operations began in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and border areas, the situation became worse for journalists.

“We used to ask ourselves every day whether we would survive the day or not,” he said.

“Although free speech, thought and expression along with press freedom is our basic right, journalists have given their lives for these basic rights,” added moderator and veteran journalist Ghazi Salahuddin. “If there can be love in the time of cholera, there can be reporting under threat too.”

Salahuddin also referred to self-censorship where media itself obliterated news or diluted it so much that no information remained. He said the names of several missing and abducted people of Balochistan were not known to the public; in FATA area no newspaper was allowed by law and Pemra had no reach there.

Mr Azeem said journalists should cover events or incidents after adopting certain methods of protection. He cited the example of recent firing in Islamabad sit-ins where some journalists were under the range of bullets and some were at safer locations. Those at safe locations covered the news efficiently. It was also important not to isolate yourself as a journalist, he said, adding be near around the other journalists when at a dangerous location.

“It is important to report the news, not become the news,” he said.

In his keynote address, veteran journalist Hussain Naqi said even in 1948, some journalists and publications were targeted with censorship but brave journalists like Zamir Niazi fought hard against this and wrote books.

He urged new journalists not to mislead public perception and that self accountability was the most important thing to do.

“Even our history is censored,” he said. “The military establishment contributed a lot to that and Muhammad Ali Jinnah was in fact the first person to be disregarded by the military establishment,” he said.

“Journalists and writers, including Manto and Faiz Ahmed, were targeted. There is no year in Pakistan’s history when newspapers and writers and journalists were not targeted for their free speech. In Benazir Bhutto’s regime, the brave Razia Bhatti was attacked in Karachi, and many by now must know about the 1965 and 1971 war propaganda.”

Mr Rehmat recommended that journalism be made safe and be treated like a proper profession.

He said that if media and civil society interacted deeply journalists issues would be dealt with in a more supportive manner. An attack on journalists, he said, was an attack on the State and should be treated that way. Public interest journalism should be promoted, and the public should hold cable operators accountable for any arbitrary steps that they take in censorship. He said that Pemra should become an independent commission.

Published in Dawn, October 3rd, 2014


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