Press freedom

23 Nov 2019

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IN conferring an award on the editor of this newspaper, the Committee to Protect Journalists has shone a spotlight on the state of Pakistan’s press in particular, at a time when independent journalism the world over is under threat. Historically, the country’s journalists have been no strangers to the pressures of undemocratic forces and their aversion to the very concept of public-interest journalism; in fact, many media workers have paid the ultimate price with their lives. Yet the situation we face today is even more critical, with the entire fourth estate being bullied into submission by the ratcheting up of dehumanising anti-press rhetoric — even by sections of the incumbent political class. So why do it? Why hold the line when capitulation is the expedient course of action, when the alternative is loss of livelihood and financial ruin, being targeted for harassment and abuse, or even spuriously charged with sedition or cyberterrorism?

There is just one reason, and it is the same reason that has held true for countless journalists over the many decades of Pakistan’s chequered past — to uphold a core pillar of democracy: the public’s right to information. The citizens of Pakistan are constitutionally entitled to participate in the decision-making processes that are shaping this country’s trajectory. They have the right to demand transparency and accountability of public institutions. And they have the right to express dissent in safety knowing that the state will defend this right and protect them against reprisal. The divergence between these principles and the current escalating erosion of fundamental rights must be challenged. The choice before us is either national progress on the basis of an open society, or further injustice, inequality and impunity for the abuse of power. None other than the brave sons and daughters of this soil can win this struggle for the country’s soul, and there is no time more urgent than the present for the press to unite in solidarity and ensure that all Pakistanis’ voices are heard.

Published in Dawn, November 23rd, 2019