THE media freedom report compiled by the Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors paints an abysmal picture of the realities of being a journalist in the country. It highlights how, in the last year alone, five journalists were killed in the line of duty and how overall attempts to stifle the media and block access to information have grown.
It talks about the ghastly kidnapping and murder of local journalist Nazim Jokhio, as well as the threats, lawsuits and attempted attacks on other journalists. Not only does it speak of the serious threats to the lives of media workers who report on sensitive and controversial issues, it documents how the pandemic, too, claimed the lives of nine journalists.
In the past year, the financial standing of media houses has also worsened. Two media workers took their own lives due to unemployment. The situation today, the report concludes, is worse than during the previous two years.
The report is a damning indictment of the state of freedom of press in the country, but it only just about captures the everyday hardships faced by journalists who risk their lives in mostly low-paid jobs to fulfil a critical role in our democracy.
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Media workers, both field reporters and desk staff, are increasingly experiencing either harassment or financial hardship or both. They are being threatened, silenced and squeezed. Be it a prime time TV anchor or a beat reporter, the threats exist for everyone. Even media group owners are not immune to such harassment.
Just this week, Mir Shakilur Rehman, the owner of the Jang Group, was acquitted in a case relating to a property purchase from over 30 years ago. Mr Rehman endured arrest and was in NAB custody for about eight months while the accountability bureau persecuted him.
All these examples point to an ugly truth, that the space for free speech and truthful accounts in our country is shrinking. Unfortunately, the ruling party has no concern for the media’s plight. The prime minister has little sympathy for journalists under threat, and has spoken dismissively about serious cases such as the disappearances of journalists. His media advisers, too, are often in the limelight for trolling journalists on social media, or making unprofessional and personal comments about them.
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It is not enough to praise the media when one is in opposition. Mr Khan needs to address this situation as the plight of the media will be part of his legacy.
Published in Dawn, February 2nd, 2022