MEDIA freedom is at its lowest point when journalists are forced to operate in an increasingly hostile environment.

While in Pakistan, there are no official curbs at the moment, as they were in the days of Gen Ziaul Haq, there is increasing pressure on media houses to conform to the narrative spun by various state institutions.

It is this rapid deterioration of press freedom that has prompted the main faction of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists to call for a nationwide protest on Oct 9.

Read more: Journalists plan protest on Oct 9 against curbs on press freedom

While the PFUJ has stated its protest will form the bedrock for a sustained press freedom campaign, it is imperative all factions of this organisation unite to lend it unequivocal support.

Only collaboration among various media platforms — the CPNE, APNS and PBA included — and concerted advocacy with rights groups, media house editors and owners can highlight the seriousness of efforts to safeguard journalists’ constitutional rights.

The relentless pressure on journalists is such that self-censorship is now the new normal. In a report by the Committee to Protect Journalists, editors say this self-censorship is the result of direct and indirect ‘methods’.

Read more: Freedom of press on the decline in Pakistan: Committee to Protect Journalists

What is unfortunate is that polarisation within the media has also eroded press freedoms. Journalists say the principle threat to their safety has come from the establishment — especially during civil-military tensions, with the media struggling to report both sides.

Resultantly, dissenting views have been purged with authoritarian vigour, newspaper sales restricted and television broadcasts blocked. Journalists crossing ‘red lines’ by reporting on sensitive subjects (the military, religion, militancy, the courts etc) often pay the price.

Though few journalists and editors have spoken publicly about these unofficial curbs imposed by the government, the military and some militant groups, there is widespread awareness of the established lines of control.

The PTI government must recognise that restrictions on freedom of expression and information under the pretext of ‘national security interest’ have detrimental consequences.

Also, impunity for aggressors creating a coercive environment curtails the right to information.

When the job of a journalist is to speak truth to power, how will the government ensure that the media is able to report without fear or favour?

For is it not an established fact that the relationship between a free media and state institutions in a democracy is often adversarial because the press as the fourth pillar of state has the responsibility of a watchdog?

Indeed, without independent journalism, democracy can have little chance of survival.

Published in Dawn, October 2nd, 2018

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