11 things that wouldn't have happened without press freedom

The media can play a critical role in ensuring accountability and creating change.
Published May 3, 2019

Without the right to freedom of expression, transparency and accountability are not possible — and many other rights cannot be enjoyed.

The media is often the first point of information for institutions that can correct a wrongdoing, shed light on an unjust system or even record crucial evidence necessary for accountability.

Related: Without press freedom, the truth disappears

Here we recall 11 incidents where the media played a critical role in upholding the rule of law, ensuring swift justice and creating change.

This list is in no way exhaustive.

1. Telling the truth about the Sahiwal extrajudicial execution (2019)

In the immediate aftermath of the shootout, the Punjab Counter Terrorism Department initially claimed that they had recovered a cache of weapons and explosives from a group of “terrorists.”

It was only after the media broadcast an interview with Umair Khalil, the son of one of the victims, where he debunked their claims did the truth of the encounter come to light: that the police had opened fire on a car containing a family, including two children.

2. Exposing the scale of child abuse in Kasur (2015)

Only after a journalist broke the story of a ring of 25 men abusing at least 280 children in the Hussain Khanwala district of Kasur, and blackmailing them with videos, did a federal inquiry take place.

The abuse dates back to as early as 2006 and without the media, the attempts at a cover-up may have been successful.

3. Saving Zulfiqar in Indonesia (2016)

Zulfiqar Ali was a Pakistani citizen on death row in Indonesia, incarcerated on false charges of drug trafficking. His innocence had been proven by a government inquiry that recommended his acquittal as early as 2012.

When his execution was scheduled in July 2016, it was only when a media campaign took root to save him, that his case caught the attention of the then-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

A call was made at the 11th hour to Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo who gave the order to stay Zulfiqar’s execution.

4. Rooting out corruption in Pakistan (2016)

Due to the investigative work of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was disqualified, sentenced to 10 years in prison and fined Rs1.5 billion and $25 million on corruption charges related to the Panama Papers’ revelations about his family’s property overseas.

5. The release of human rights activists (2019)

Academic Dr Ammar Ali Jan and Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) leader Gulalai Ismail were detained without charge earlier this year. The former was picked up from his home, the latter from a protest.

The resulting noise from the media and social media campaign made it clear that these detentions would not go unignored by the press.

Dr Ammar was returned after a few hours and Gulalai after 30.

6. Ensuring Asma Aziz swift justice (2019)

When news of Asma Aziz’ violent abuse at the hands of her husband came to light, the resulting outrage and press reportage made government authorities act quickly.

Human rights minister Dr Shireen Mazari tweeted that her office was taking action within 12 hours of Asma’s video message being reported by the press.

Her husband was arrested and was denied bail recently.

7. Investigating the death of Imanae Malik (2009)

Three-year-old Imanae Malik was brought to Doctors Hospital in Lahore for minor burn injuries, where she was given an incorrect and gratuitous amount of anaesthesia, ultimately killing her.

The nationwide national coverage led to nine officials at the hospital being held accountable, an inquiry ordered by the Lahore High Court and the cancellation of an Indian doctor’s registration.

8. Tabling of the Amal Umer Bill (2018-2019)

When 10-year-old Amal Umer was shot during a botched robbery in Karachi last year, she may have survived had the National Medical Centre not denied her first-aid treatment before it could be determined whether her gunshot wound was a police case.

Doctors told the parents to arrange her transfer to another hospital, delaying her treatment further still. Amal’s death could have been avoided, had the hospital prioritised her life instead of their own bureaucracy — which is what the Sindh Injured Persons Compulsory Medical Treatment (Amal Umer) Bill calls for. The bill was tabled in the Sindh Assembly early this year.

9. Conviction of a Sindh Ranger for killing a civilian in broad daylight (2011)

Only when a cameraman filmed the cold-blooded murder of Sarfaraz Shah, a citizen of Karachi, in a public park did the abuse come to light.

Had the media not been allowed to broadcast the footage, it is unlikely there would have been any consequences for the act of shooting a man and letting him bleed to death.

10. Indictment of Rao Anwar (2018-2019)

After the extrajudicial execution of Naqeebullah Mehsud, the media’s coverage of the story brought the reality of police encounters into the national discourse.

The extrajudicial killing of innocent civilians and racial profiling of Pashtuns added impetus to the PTM. The movement called for holding Rao Anwar, a senior police official, to account for presiding over hundreds of police encounters in Karachi.

Anwar was indicted in March by an anti-terrorism court in Karachi.

11. The regulation and fining of Bahria Town (2019)

On the heels of a 2016 Dawn investigation that found evidence of collusion between land authorities and Bahria Town (Pvt) Limited to facilitate a massive land grab, the Supreme Court ordered Bahria Town authorities to pay a fine of Rs460 billion.