CPNE report depicts grim picture of media freedom

Updated January 20, 2020

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According to the World Press Freedom Index, Pakistan ranked 142 out of 180 countries, which gives the indication of how the media in Pakistan was under threat.  — AFP/File
According to the World Press Freedom Index, Pakistan ranked 142 out of 180 countries, which gives the indication of how the media in Pakistan was under threat. — AFP/File

ISLAMABAD: At least seven journalists were reportedly murdered and 60 booked under anti-terrorism and other laws last year as media in Pakistan continued to face extreme pressure.

This was revealed by the Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors (CPNE) in its Pakistan Media Freedom Report 2019 issued on Sunday.

The report says that although Article 19 of the Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantee freedom of expression and free media, media in Pakistan continued to come under strict forms of physical intimidation during the year.

Even though there is a specific law on defamation, the government and other actors used the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA), Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) and Pakistan Penal Code’s (criminalisation) sections against media practitioners in Pakistan, it says.

The report says the cases compiled, the number of victims involved and the sequence of events made a mockery of the freedom of media and freedom of speech in the country.

Seven journalists killed, 15 injured in line of duty

The report also contains recommendations by CPNE president Arif Nizami.

Mentioning the case of journalist Chaudhry Nasrullah, the report says the country’s first-ever conviction for possession of banned material has been made as the journalist has been awarded a ­sentence of five-year imprisonment.

According to available data, at least seven journalists were murdered and 15 others injured in 2019 in the line of duty. Five of the seven fallen journalists have been identified as Urooj Iqbal, Mirza Wasim Baig, Mohammad Bilal Khan, Ali Sher Rajpar and Malik Amanullah Khan.

According to the report, mysterious and unidentified actors pose the biggest threat to press freedom. Among the threats to the lives of journalists are non-state actors and outlawed militant groups. The pathetic state of unannounced impunity for those who attack the media can be derived from the fact that not a single killer or attacker of media persons has been brought to justice.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa took the lead in introducing the first provincial law on the Right to Information (RTI) followed by Punjab and Sindh. The federal capital has adopted a new legislation on RTI as well. However, in Balochistan, RTI laws remain a distant dream, report notes.

The report states that it has been claimed by the government that the cyber law PECA, 2016 will deal with cyber crimes and online harassment of women and will not be used against journalists and media. But on the contrary, the report claims, the law has been used against media and the freedom of expression in one way or the other.

In an attempt, which can be termed a flagrant move to curb media freedom, the PTI government had announced the ­formation of special tribunals (media courts) in a bid to tight its grip on media. But due to strong opposition by the CPNE and other stakeholders, the government has dropped the proposal.

The Press Information Department, in a move to introduce advertisement policy by federal government, shared a draft of the proposed policy with various stakeholders, including the CPNE. According to media professionals, advertisements are being used as a tool to restrict media ­freedom and keeping this in view the CPNE shared its feedback on the policy.

According to the World Press Freedom Index, Pakistan ranked 142 out of 180 countries, which gives the indication of how the media in Pakistan was under threat.

Under attack

The report says Dawn offices came under attack several times in 2019 because some of the newspaper’s stories did not go well with some groups in the country. Angry mobs besieged Dawn offices in Islamabad and foul language was used against the newspaper’s management and Editor Zaffar Abbas.

Raising objections over the role of the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra), the CPNE report says that in 2019 the media regulator not only issued notices to TV channels, but also barred some anchorpersons from offering opinions on talk shows. The media was also ordered not to discuss the issue pertaining to release of PML-N leader Shahbaz Sharif on bail. TV channels were directed not to cover live telecast of PML-N leader Maryam Nawaz’s press conference. Pemra issued notices to 21 TV channels for non-compliance.

An interview of former president and PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari with host Hamid Mir was stopped from being aired shortly after it started on Geo News in July 2019.

Geo News, 24 News, Abbtakk, Capital and DawnNews were taken off air due to coverage of Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s press conference on Azadi March. TV channel 24 News was served notice on the complaint of the prime minister and Pemra imposed a fine of Rs1 million on it.

The report says 60 journalists were booked in 2019 for allegations of extortion, kidnapping for ransom, police encounters, attempted murder, blackmailing, etc. However, these journalists claimed that they were victimised owing to their fair reporting against authorities.

Published in Dawn, January 20th, 2020