PARIS: The Pakistani media are regarded as among the most vibrant in Asia but due to pressure being exerted by extremist groups and intelligence agencies they are increasingly resorting to self-censorship, according to a report by a global watchdog.

The report issued by the Repor­ters Without Borders, or Repor­ters Sans Frontieres (RSF), on Wednesday said the extremist groups and intelligence agencies of the country were already on the RSF’s list of predators of press freedom.

“In October 2017, armed groups in the south-western province of Balochistan issued an ultimatum to journalists, threatening them with violence if they continued to refuse to cover the actions and statements of these groups — coverage that the journalists have not been providing under orders from the security forces,” said the country report accompanying the RSF’s media freedom index for 2018.

Reporters Without Borders picks Trump, Modi for special criticism

“A month later, reporters were again caught in the crossfire when they tried to cover protests by religious activists that brought Islamabad to a standstill. The natural consequence has been an increase in newsroom self-censorship,” added the report.

The RSF placed Pakistan on the 139th position in a field of 180 countries. Last year it had been placed on the same position.

The watchdog placed India on the 138th position. Last year it had been placed on the 136th position.

One journalist has been killed so far this year in Pakistan. In comparison, three journalists have been killed in the neighbouring country.

According to the report, press freedom around the world is under threat from a triple whammy of US President Donald Trump, Russia and China’s bid to crush all dissent.

The media watchdog warned that a “climate of hatred and animosity” towards journalists combined with growing attempts to control the media pose a “threat to democracies”.

Its annual report said that reporters were the target of a growing wave of authoritarianism with leaders whipping up hostility against them.

The group accused the world’s three superpowers — the US, China and Russia — of leading the charge against press freedom, with Trump regularly launching personal attacks on reporters and Beijing exporting its “media control model” to strangle dissent elsewhere in Asia.

The slide towards “strongman” and populist politics in Europe, stoked by Moscow, was threatening freedoms in the region where they were once safest, it added, with Hungary, Slovakia and Poland setting off alarm bells.

RSF said that hostility towards the media is “no longer confined to authoritarian countries such as Turkey and Egypt”, but was poisoning the political atmosphere in some of the great democracies.

“More and more democratically elected leaders no longer see the media as part of democracy’s essential underpinning, but as an adversary to which they openly display their aversion,” the report said, picking out Trump, India’s Narendra Modi and Philippine leader Rodrigo Duterte for particular criticism.

The US president had referred to reporters as “enemies of the people”, a term once used by Stalin, it said.

RSF accused Vladimir Putin’s Russia of “stifling independent voices at home... and extending its propaganda network by means of media outlets such as RT (Russian Today) and Sputnik”. It had even harsher words for Beijing, saying “Xi Jinping’s China is getting closer and closer to a contemporary version of totalitarianism.

According to the RSF ranking, North Korea remains the most repressive country on Earth closely followed by Eritrea, Turkmen­istan, Syria and then China. Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Viet­nam, Sudan and Cuba also remain among the worst offenders.

As usual, Scandinavian countries topped the list with Norway deemed as having the world’s freest press for the second year in a row.

Published in Dawn, April 26th, 2018

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