Keeping truth alive

November 02, 2019

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A DIRECT correlation can be drawn between a state’s response to attacks on journalists and the freedom of its press. Where there is impunity for a crime as egregious as murdering someone in search of answers, it inevitably follows that numerous non-fatal tactics to intimidate and coerce the press are even more rampant. It is indicative of a concerted effort to suppress the truth: typically, a pervasive climate of unchecked corruption and systemic injustice. As recently highlighted by the Committee to Protect Journalists in its annual Global Impunity Index, for 12 consecutive years, Pakistan continues to remain among the company of other states “where journalists are slain and their killers go free”. Today, on International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists, this ignominious scorecard merits scrutiny. Despite a relative reduction in violence in recent years, why is it that the press in Pakistan today is still far from able to operate freely, under peaceful and just conditions?

The reality is that successive governments have either been reluctant or recalcitrant in actively pursuing the course of justice for the families of slain journalists. Whether at the hands of militants, mafias or elements of the establishment, of the scores of journalists’ murders in the past two decades, only two have resulted in successful prosecutions. Inordinate delays and denials at every stage of the criminal justice process are tantamount to complicity with the perpetrators of these crimes. They are also a betrayal of any commitment to press freedom that the government might claim to have, as the after-effects of years of impunity are plain to see. These unsolved mysteries continue to cast a long shadow over the ability of the press to conduct critical or investigative reporting in Pakistan, with self-censorship becoming a means of self-preservation. But, while truth can be suppressed, distorted and even manufactured — for a time — it can never die. History rarely looks kindly upon those who, whether by inertia or intent, stand in its way.

Published in Dawn, November 2nd, 2019