InternationalVOLUME 15 ISSUE # 07

Media curbs in Pakistan

International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists is observed by the United Nations on November 2 every year. The day is observed not only to remember journalists who have sacrificed their lives while performing their professional duties but also highlight the threats and dangers which journalists are facing across the world.
There are many corrupt people, politicians and criminals who do not like to be exposed by journalists. To save their corruption and sin, they do not feel any hesitation even to threaten, beat and kill journalists. Unfortunately, these criminals are so powerful that they go unpunished. They enjoy impunity while journalists suffer and die in many countries.
The situation of journalists and the media in Pakistan is also very precarious and serious. According to Freedom Network, a media watchdog, around 33 journalists were killed while rendering their journalistic duties during the past six years, including seven in the past one year (November 2018 to October 2019). The report, titled “100% Impunity for Killers, 0% Justice for Pakistan’s Murdered Journalists: Crime and Punishment in Pakistan’s Journalism World” issued a “Pakistan Impunity Scorecard” which unmasks very alarming statistics.
According to the Pakistan Impunity Scorecard, “a total of 32 FIRs were registered for the murder of 33 journalists during the period 2013-19, of which the police could file challans (charge-sheet) in only 20 cases – or just 60 percent. Out of 33 cases, the courts declared only 20 cases fit for trial (60 percent) of which prosecution and trial were completed in only six cases – only 18 percent. In these six cases, the killer was convicted in just one case but escaped punishment after successfully overturning the conviction at the appeal stage after which the family of the murdered journalist abandoned its pursuit for justice for lack of resources. The net result: justice for 33 murdered journalists – zero percent!”
The cases of seven journalists murdered in Pakistan in the past one year (between November 2018 and October 2019) are also included in the statistics. According to the report, “FIRs were registered in all seven cases, but challan was filed by the police in only four cases (57 percent). The courts declared all these four cases fit for trial, but prosecution and trial were concluded in not even a single case. In short, none of the cases of seven journalists murdered in Pakistan for their work in the past one year reached the critical stage where the courts could hand a verdict and give them justice”.
According to Freedom Network, “the impunity enjoyed by the killers of journalists in Pakistan is one of the highest in the world. While, print media journalists in Pakistan are the most vulnerable among those working for various media. Data for the period 2013-19 shows they are 69.6 percent more at risk of murder than compared to journalists working for TV (27.2 percent) or internet media (3 percent) or radio (0 percent). Of the 23 murdered journalists working for the print media, eight were based in KP (34.7 percent), seven in the Punjab (30.4 percent), five in Balochistan (21.7 percent) and three in Sindh (13 percent). In this period, no journalists primarily working for the print media were murdered in AJK, GB or Islamabad. Of the nine murdered journalists working for TV channels, four were based in Sindh (44.4 percent), 3 in the Punjab (33.3 percent) and 2 in KP (22.2 percent) including one in erstwhile Tribal Areas now merged into KP”. The report says, “data for 2013-19 shows Pakistani journalists are at most risk of being murdered if they are based in KP – 11 were murdered there in the period (33.3 percent), the Punjab – 9 were murdered there (27.2 percent), Sindh – 7 were murdered there (21.2 percent), Balochistan – 5 were murdered there (15.1 percent) and Islamabad – one was murdered there (3 percent)”.
“Mysterious, nameless and unidentified actors constitute the biggest threat to journalists in Pakistan during 2013-19 with 18 of the 33 journalists (54.5 percent) murdered in this period being targeted by them. The second biggest threat source to the lives of journalists are non-state actors – outlawed terror and militant groups, including transnational actors – who murdered journalists. Other threat sources include members of political parties who allegedly murdered four journalists (12 percent) and religious groups and state authorities who allegedly murdered one journalist each (3 percent each)”, reads the report. According to the report, “in three-fourth cases, the local state authorities were pre-informed by journalists of threats they were facing before being murdered. Despite early warning and threat reporting, the authorities failed to prevent their murders”.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) also confirms that “impunity” in the cases of murdered journalists remains “firmly entrenched” in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Russia, and 10 other countries across the world, where criminal groups, politicians, government officials, and other powerful actors resort to violence to silence critical and investigative reporting.” “Pakistan ranked eighth with 16 unsolved killings. The 13 countries accounted for 222 of the 318 deaths in the past 10 years,” CPJ said.
The Guardian also writes that Pakistani journalists face blanked-out articles, pulled funding and channel shutdown. While Pakistan has a turbulent relationship with media freedom, under Imran Khan, elected as prime minister last year, censorship is felt heavier than ever before. However, the broadcast regulator Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) was forced to backtrack on a directive issued to all TV news anchors, banning them from expressing personal views on their shows, punishable by a fine of up to 10 million rupees (£189,384), after it was publicly slammed by Reporters Without Borders as a “grotesque” example of censorship. The Peshawar High Court also ruled that PEMRA’s ban on TV channels airing a press conference by Maulana Fazlur Rehman, the leader of the opposition, was illegal”.
All these threatening facts and figures clearly show that the media is not free in Pakistan. Journalists are living under perennial threats. Pakistan’s Constitution ensures freedom of speech and expression. The Article 19 of the Constitution reads: “Every citizen shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression and there shall be freedom of the press, subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interest of the glory of Islam or the integrity, security or defence of Pakistan or any part thereof, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court (commission of) or incitement to an offence.”
No democracy can work without freedom of the media. It is the duty of journalists to expose corruption of the corrupt people, including politicians, businessmen, and other institutions of the state. But, unfortunately, there are many forces which stop the media and journalists from performing their constructive services and work. The state should take every possible step to ensure freedom and security of the media and journalists, if it wants to flourish a real democracy in the country.