IN Pakistan, journalists have to face pressures from both state and non-state actors while carrying out their routine duty ie informing the public of the facts.

At times, media workers have paid with their lives, sometimes for upsetting powerful quarters by their reporting. Just in the past few days, a well-known journalist was attacked in the federal capital itself. If a prominent journalist can be attacked with such impunity in the capital, we can only imagine the hazards that district correspondents must face in far-flung towns of the country.

It is thus no surprise that Pakistan has been ranked amongst the most dangerous countries of the world for journalists.

On Thursday, the Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists, advocacy group Reporters Without Borders said Pakistan came in 139th out of 180 countries. Other countries in the region — such as Bangladesh and India — are in the same boat.

While Pakistan does have a free press compared to many other regional states — such as the Gulf sheikhdoms, where even a tweet mildly critical of the state can land one in hot water — the dangers journalists face are still considerable. Those standing in the way of press freedom include elements of the establishment, militant separatist groups, religious extremists, political elements as well as criminals.

While the state says it is committed to media freedom, its intentions are made questionable because so few of those who have attacked journalists have been brought to justice. Speakers at a moot in Islamabad on Thursday called for passage of a law to protect journalists. Such a step should be welcomed as it may dissuade those who seek to harm journalists.

However, simply passing laws will not be enough: the state must practically demonstrate that it stands by freedom of the press by probing violence against journalists and punishing the perpetrators. Without these, the state’s commitment to the freedom of press and expression will remain suspect.

Published in Dawn, November 4th, 2017


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