Pakistan slides two places in RSF’s press freedom index

Published May 3, 2024
Pakistan drops two spots in RSF’s annual press freedom index.—Screenshot via RSF
Pakistan drops two spots in RSF’s annual press freedom index.—Screenshot via RSF

Pakistan dropped two places in the 2024 World Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) on Friday.

According to the index, published to coincide with World Press Freedom Day, Pakistan now ranks 152 out of 180 countries, compared to its standing at 150 in last year’s index.

In its country profile, RSF said that since its founding in 1947, Pakistan has “oscillated between civil society’s quest for greater press freedom and a political reality in which the political-military elite retains broad control over the media”.

It noted that Pakistan’s media landscape became “extremely diversified” since the state monopoly on broadcasting ended in 2002, adding that English-language press had a “strong tradition of independence”. RSF also noted that online media was “booming”.

It noted, however, that privately owned media was dependent on legal notices and public sector advertisements for its funding, resulting in “information ministries threatening to withdraw advertising in order to influence editorial policy”.

As a result, it said self-censorship was being encouraged in the field of journalism since “salaries are often cut when their employers are going through financial difficulties”.

RSF highlighted that “no matter their ideology, political parties support freedom of the press, but they are incapable of defending it when they come to power, due to the control of the military over the country’s affairs.”

The media watchdog noted that the government had direct control over media regulators, which “systematically favour defence of the government over the public’s right to information”.

It added that “as the military has steadily tightened its grip on civilian institutions, coverage of military and intelligence agency interference in politics has become off limits for journalists.”

The index said Pakistan was “one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists, with three to four murders each year that are often linked to cases of corruption or illegal trafficking and which go completely unpunished.”

The findings were backed by the Pakistan Press Freedom Report prepared by the Freedom Network released on Monday, which documented a total of 104 cases of violations against journalists and other media practitioners, including murders, attacks, injuries, kidnapping, threats and legal cases.

India, on the other hand, moved up two places to 159 compared to its 2023 ranking of 161. RSF noted that India’s media has “fallen into an ‘unofficial state of emergency’ since Narendra Modi came to power in 2014 and engineered a spectacular rapprochement between his party, the BJP, and the big families dominating the media”.

Norway retained its top position, while Eritrea came last, taking over from last year’s lowest-ranked country, North Korea.

Among the most significant declines were Afghanistan, (which fell 26 places to 178th), Togo (down 43 to 113th) and Ecuador (down 30 to 110th).

The bottom 10 included China, Iran, North Korea, Syria and Eritrea.

But the watchdog warned that politicians across a wide range of countries were targeting the media.

“Some political groups fuel hatred and distrust of journalists by insulting them, discrediting them and threatening them,” it said. “Others are orchestrating a takeover of the media ecosystem.”

It singled out Argentina under newly elected President Javier Milei, down 26 places to 66th, saying his decision to shutter the public press agency Telam was a “worrisome symbolic act”.

It also highlighted Italy under Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, where a member of her coalition is trying to acquire news agency AGI.

Respondents in three-quarters of countries (138) reported to RSF that political actors were often involved in disinformation and propaganda, and that this was systematic in 31 countries.

RSF said there was “spectacular mimicry of Russian repressive methods” across Eastern Europe and Central Asia, stretching as far as Serbia, “where pro-government media carry Russian propaganda and the authoritiesthreaten exiled Russian journalists”.

The most challenging region remained the Middle East and North Africa, where the situation was “very serious” in nearly half the countries, with Qatar now the only country where the situation was not classified either as “difficult” or “very serious.” Europe was the only region to include any countries classed as “good”.

Greece was ranked worst in Europe (88th overall), coming below Hungary and Poland.

Despite improvements in its score, Greece was criticised over its continued failure to deal with a scandal around wiretapping journalists by the intelligence service and the murder of veteran crime reporter Giorgos Karaivaz in 2021.

Now in its 22nd year, the RSF report is based on data collected by the group about abuses against journalists, and questionnaires sent to professionals, researchers and rights defenders.

President, PM emphasise press freedom

A statement issued by the office of President Asif Ali Zardari noted the need to provide an “enabling environment free of intimidation or harassment” for journalists to freely express their opinion.

“It is, therefore, imperative to initiate measures for the safety and security of journalists enabling them to freely report on important issues, without fear,” according to a statement on X by the president’s official account.

“The Constitution of Pakistan guarantees freedom of the press; however, it is also the responsibility of the media to abide by journalistic ethics and report responsibly and accurately, keeping in view the national interest,” the statement read.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif emphasised that freedom of press and expression is the foundation of democracy.

“The media and all parties must work together for correct information,” he said in a statement on X, adding that the state would play a vital role in improving the media industry.

He also called paid tribute to journalists in Gaza, calling them “heroes of humanity”.

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