LAHORE: Award-winning journalist and columnist Hamid Mir said on Sunday the media in Pakistan continued to face oppression in one form or another.
“The government has changed but the situation (state of media) remains the same,” he emphatically said at a session — Media under Siege in India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan — on the last day of the 4th Asma Jahangir Conference 2022 at a local hotel. Journalist Arifa Noor moderated the well-attended session.
Mr Mir started off by apologising to Committee to Protect Journalists Senior Program Consultant Steven Butler for the inconvenience he had to face on arrival at the Lahore airport.
He lamented that the distinguished guest’s name was put on the ‘stop list’ back in 2019 and he was deported. The only difference this time round was that he was allowed to move around freely after eight hours on ‘intervention’ and later, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif conveyed his apology to him.
“The episode pretty much sums up what kind of country Pakistan is for journalists,” he remarked.
It’s a matter of regret, he said, that Pakistan had gone south in the Press Freedom Index. He recalled that he and other journalists were targeted in the previous government and he was denigrated and labelled traitor. Worse still, he said, some of the media men openly stood with the government and criticised him.
Now these very journalists were facing the wrath of the powers that be and, as a matter of principle, he was against such a treatment irrespective of whichever organisation they belong to.
“The government has no right to deny the fundamental right of freedom of expression to anyone,” he said and called for abolition of draconian laws such as The Prevention of Electronic Crimes (Amendment) Ordinance 2022.
Steven Butler cleared the air by saying the Ministry of Interior (MoI) invited him to Pakistan and it was only a lack of communication between the departments or officials concerned. The FIA did stop him for eight hours at the airport, he said, but there was no interrogation. He said that as a representative of the CPJ, all he was concerned about was the safety and protection of journalists.
Daniel Bastard, Asia-Pacific Director of Reporters Without Borders, also shared facts and figures about the plight of media professionals in the aforementioned countries.
Malini Subramaniam (India) read out a paper highlighting the cases of journalists who faced trials and tribulations while Dilrukshi Handunnetti (Sri Lanka) spoke virtually and shared the situation in her country.
The speakers unanimously called upon the governments to give the media professionals respect and acknowledge their contributions instead of subjecting them to ignominy. They paid tribute to the late Asma Jahangir to whom the event was dedicated.
School curriculum and communalism in India and Pakistan
A panel comprising Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy, Tapan K. Bose (India), Rita Manchanda (India), Kishwar Naheed and Peter Jacob enlightened the audience with their honest appraisals of the state of education and shortcomings in curricula in the neighbouring countries.
Educationist Taimur Bandey moderated the session on the issue of curriculum and communalism.
Dr Hoodbhoy, scholar and activist for promotion of secularism, spoke out against the neglect of education by successive governments in Pakistan and their regressive policies. “The only aim of ideology-driven education is to promote mediocrity by suppressing the spirit of inquiry,” he lamented. The Single National Curriculum (SNC), he said, was the latest example of promoting conformism and shunning modernity.
“The sad reality is that Pakistan has lagged far behind in the competitive world as it has not produced scientists and philosophers. No Pakistani is part of the faculty in any top university around the world whereas Indian academics have made their mark in institutions in the USA and the UK,” he said.
Peter Jacob (Executive Director, Centre for Social Justice) quoted Afrasiab Khattak as having said: “We detest history and don’t recognise the significance of geography.”
The Indian scholars revealed stories of what they said “policing education” and a lack of tolerance in society.
Kishwar Naheed, a feminist poet, spoke about deficiencies in the curriculum and read out a poem.
Published in Dawn, October 24th, 2022