ISLAMABAD: As the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists was observed on Tuesday, it emerged the government had yet to devise a mechanism to record data related to attacks on and threats against journalists.
At a ceremony held to commemorate the day officials presented an optimistic picture of the state of the media in Pakistan but facts presented on the occasion portrayed a worrisome image of journalism in the country.
The theme for the international day this year was countering threats of violence and crimes against journalists to protect freedom of expression for all.
Speaking on the occasion, PTI legislator and federal parliamentary secretary for national history and literary heritage Ghazala Saifi said that media was a powerful segment of society and it must play a positive and responsible role.
“At times it is not appropriate to publish news that is not in the interest of the state or the public at large,” she said.
Supporting the idea of the proposed Pakistan Media Development Authority (PMDA), Ms Saifi said there should be a strong regulatory body in the country. She, however, said the draft of PMDA bill would be shared with all stakeholders and finalised with consensus only.
All the bodies representing publishers, owners, editors and journalists have collectively rejected the media development authority law, but the government is still insisting on introducing it.
As the gathering expressed concern over growing cases of online harassment of women journalists, the parliamentary secretary said the best way to counter this trend was to report such cases. “It will encourage all victims to come forward and lodge their reports which will put pressure on harassers and violators.”
Manzoor Memon, director general for internal publicity, Ministry of Information, explained media-related laws and said there were a large number of print as well as electronic media organisations operating in the country.
DIG of National Police Bureau Saqib Sultan acknowledged that district police officers always knew of threats to media people, but they usually acted in accordance with the law. He said a mechanism was being devised to collect data related to online and physical threats to journalists.
Patricia McPhillips, country representative and director of Unesco, said that 84 journalists had been killed in Pakistan since 1997. The pressures on journalism had led to shrinking space for democratic discourses.
She lamented the new trend of personalised attacks on media people, particularly women journalists.
A Unesco report says the level of impunity for crimes against journalists remains extremely high globally, with an impunity rate of 87 per cent, representing a similarly high rate to previous years, and that threats of violence against media people are on the rise.
The report further says that while killings have decreased everywhere, the proportion of targeted killings outside of countries experiencing armed conflict has increased over the past five years.
This trend may suggest that even as fewer journalists have suffered fatal attacks while covering armed conflict, they risk their lives when reporting on topics such as corruption, crime, and politics, the report says.
During 2016-2020, Unesco recorded 400 killings of journalists, but the figure was almost 20 per cent less than the previous five-year period.
Wouter Plomp, ambassador of Netherlands to Pakistan, expressed sadness that a professional journalist was killed in his country recently and the case against perpetrators of the crime was pending in the court of law.
Anchorperson Gharida Farooqui narrated her own experience to highlight the online trolling and threats faced by women journalists.
Published in Dawn, November 3rd, 2021
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