ISLAMABAD: Media bodies while observing World Press Freedom Day expressed concerns over the state of free media in Pakistan, with a key focus on mainstream media and social media restrictions during election days.

The Association of Electronic Media Editors and News Directors (AEMEND) has expressed its determination to continue the constitutional and legal struggle for freedom of expression in the country and face unfavourable circumstances head-on.

In a statement, AEMEND said that journalists and media outlets in Pakistan are facing severe challenges, as state and non-state actors are imposing restrictions on television programmes, shutting down broadcasts, pressurising for the termination of journalists, creating unnecessary pressures, and making illegal demands.

Character assassination

“Such tactics are increasing by the day,” the statement said, adding, “Character assassination of journalists, especially women journalists, is part of this campaign, and political party workers are also part of such malicious campaigns.” The purpose of all these tactics is to suppress journalists and restrict freedom of expression, AEMEND said.

Harassment of journalists, social media shutdowns among challenges depriving the public of their right to information

It added that slapping notices on journalists by FIA and other institutions, illegal restrictions on social media, shutting down mobile phone and internet services on important occasions, restricting the coverage of targeted political and non-political activities, and the issuance of illegal notices by Pemra are actions aimed at depriving the public of their right to information, which is against the spirit of democratic societies.

In its South Asia Press Freedom Report, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) highlighted that the region and the world witnessed democracy in action in 2023-24, with the ballot of more than two billion people in about 50 countries making momentous choices. While the world’s most populous region — South Asia — saw citizens in Bangladesh, Bhutan, the Maldives, Pakistan, India, and Sri Lanka either vote or gear up to elect governments, the IFJ said.

Four journalists killed

Regarding Pakistan, the IFJ highlighted that four journalists were murdered. “Pakistan’s women journalists faced similar harassment both online and offline; they are in a minority, and their voices are unheard,” the IFJ added.

Erosion of free speech

Meanwhile, the Freedom Network has released its annual ‘Pakistan Freedom of Expression and Media Report 2024’ titled “Erosion of free speech: The silencing of citizens, political parties, and media,” highlighting Pakistan’s socio-political-legal and media industry-related factors and developments impacting the exercise of Article 19 (freedom of expression) by the public and media.

Published in Dawn, May 4th, 2024

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