KARACHI: A Russian professor with expertise in international journalism on Wednesday said Pakistan was better placed than Russia and China, though still “least free” on the freedom of press rankings by two prestigious institutions.

Prof Aleksei Bykov, a professor of international journalism associated with the St Petersburg University, Russia, spoke at length on the ‘Lesson on freedom of speech in international journalism’ at the Festival of Arts and Ideas 2018 organised by the Sindh Madressatul Islam University on its campus.

The second edition of the four-day annual festival was inaugurated by SMIU Vice Chancellor Dr Muhammad Ali Shaikh in which delegates from across the country and abroad are participating.

‘Each society must itself decide the question of freedom of speech’

Prof Bykov referred to the World Press Freedom Index 2018 of Reporters Without Borders where Pakistan had a better standing (139th on the list of 180 countries with last entries are the least free) than Russia (148th) and China (176th).

Freedom House’s Freedom of the Press 2017 ranks Pakistan 65th among 100 countries with 100th as the least free. Russia ranks 83rd and China 87th on the list.

‘Imperial interests’

The Russian scholar said those rankings were prestigious for a large population of the world, but there was another opinion in which they were accused of serving certain imperial interests.

He said in Russia, there was a dichotomised model regarding the media where the state had supreme control over the state electronic and print media. However, there was another side where free media outlets worked. He spoke on fresh curbs imposed on the foreign ownership in the Russian media. These curbs reduced the foreign stakes in the country’s media.

He said the print media had a long history as it began in Tsarist Russia; broadcasting began in the Soviet Union while the internet emerged in the post-Soviet era.

Prof Bykov also spoke on the happenings in Turkey after the botched military coup in 2016, trailed by curbs on the media where free speech was being rebranded as “terrorism” and actions by the Erdogan government were aimed at creating a strong state.

He said each society must decide the question of freedom of speech on its own and develop a dialogue to evolve solutions.

‘World is our home’

Stalls were set up by SMIU students on the premises on the theme of ‘World is our home’, depicting various cultures of the world.

Speaking at the inaugural ceremony, Dr Shaikh said the theme ‘World is our home’ was selected as all the people living on the planet formed a single entity.

He said many issues were common among the people living across the borders such as poverty, world peace and climate change. He said world peace could bring prosperity and development in all parts of the world. He was of the view that the biggest bond among all people of the world was humanity. However, he added, it was wrong to say that the era of wars had gone.

Retired Justice Agha Rafique Ahmed highlighted SMIU’s leadership programme and said the programme provided opportunities to its students to visit national and international institutions.

Speaking at the ‘Distinguished lecture series’ programme, Junaid Ismail Makda, president of the Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said Pakistan had started proceeding in the right direction after peace had been restored after many decades.

In the series of ‘Life of an author’, the life and times of Mirza Ghalib were reviewed by Dr Tanzeem-ul-Firdous of the University of Karachi.

A panel discussion was held on ‘Education as an instrument of social change’. Educationists Dr Mohammad Memon, Prem Sagar, Asif Ikram and Chandni Kumari spoke.

The discussants said during the past couple of decades, education had deteriorated badly, and as a result “we have failed to bring social change”.

They said at present the country was left with infrastructure and not institutions. They added there was a dearth of pedagogical leaders and, sadly, teachers had turned into instructors only.

The participants said syllabus being taught to students did not meet the modern-day demands.

Another panel discussion was held on ‘Impacts of climate change on water resources’. Ahmer Bilal Soofi, Tania Saleem, and Naeem A. Mughal were among the panellists.

Published in Dawn, December 13th, 2018