Self-censorship & media

Published May 4, 2016

THE statistics might show a different picture but the fact is that print and electronic media in Pakistan face many restrictions. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has ranked Pakistan 147 on the 2016 World Press Freedom Index — a ranking that is up by 12 places from last year’s score.

And yet, there are restrictions on the freedom of expression, with journalists often trapped between dangerous non-state actors and the state itself.

Seventy-two media professionals have been killed in the country since 2002, according to the Pakistan Press Foundation.

With only four convictions, killers of journalists know they can escape the law.

Listed as “predators of press freedom” by RSF, militant groups, inspired by religion or nationalism, as well as the security apparatus, force their versions on the press — this is especially evident in KP and Balochistan.

Caught on all sides, the media resorts to self-censorship. The situation is worse for district correspondents and freelancers who cannot access support, however inadequate, offered by large media houses.

This is exacerbated by the absence of state protection and institutional support to exercise independence. Hence, the drop in the number of journalists killed — two journalists were murdered in the period May 2015 to May 2016 — is linked to self-censorship, and not to any decrease in violent propensities or better security.

Moreover, the government has yet to formally pursue a number of cases of attacks on journalists, despite blandishments and expressions of concern.

Who murdered Hayatullah Khan in 2006? Why did the judicial commission investigating Saleem Shahzad’s murder fail to implicate his killers? Who planned the attack on Hamid Mir?

It seems that the information minister who is preoccupied with the first family’s fortunes, has forgotten his government’s commitment to media safety — indeed, while media houses must protect their workers, it is primarily the state’s duty to ensure that journalists can safely and freely do their job.

Instead of appointing powerless commissions when it comes to assaults on media workers, it must prosecute the attackers to show it values freedom of expression.

Published in Dawn, May 4th, 2016

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