A perilous place
The South Asia Media Monitor Report, 2012 makes sad reading. In the course of the last year, 25 media personnel were killed in the eight countries of the South Asian region, with Pakistan once again leading with 13 journalists losing their lives – slightly more than one a month, to say nothing of the hundreds who are harassed almost as a matter of routine. Sri Lanka, Bhutan and the Maldives distinguished themselves by having no journalist slain in 2012 but their media persons faced threats and challenges nonetheless. Violence against journalists remains the single biggest threat to the freedom of expression across the entire region, and there have been media rights violations in all eight countries of South Asia. In Pakistan, Balochistan and the northern parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa remained the most dangerous places, but overt and covert attempts to muzzle the media by the state and powerful individuals and agencies within it as well as by individual politicians and private entities, continue unabated.
Threats to the security of media persons are not confined to the physical. Many are poorly-paid or underpaid, many are not paid at all for months on end contributing to their sense of insecurity. Not much is invested in safety training or equipment, which could enable journalists to report from zones of conflict at reduced or mitigated risk. Some countries, such as Afghanistan, have seen a mushrooming of media outlets in the last decade. The downside of that is that much of the expansion has been donor-funded and, with the war winding down, the donors are no longer there to support media activities; already several outlets have had to close as funding dries up.
In our country most media platforms rely on advertising for their principal revenue and although there is for some a steady trickle that keeps the presses rolling and the TV channels on air, the market is still relatively small. With the economy teetering forever on the brink of the abyss, there is an in-built uncertainty for the advertising revenue stream. Our internet services are currently suffering from a blanket ban on YouTube, which penalises millions and impedes the flow of knowledge and information. The promise to deregulate state media is unfulfilled ahead of the elections and a dynamic tension exists between government and the media at virtually every level. The freedom of expression that we have, incomplete and imperfect as it is, has been hard-fought for. Retaining it is going to be a challenge for decades to come.