Last year, the United Nations declared Pakistan was “the most dangerous place in the world for journalists;” a record it continues to hold this year. On World Press Freedom day observed on Saturday, the world body proceeded to say that an open and pluralistic media must work without fear of reprisal. Well, of course. The United Nations is stating the obvious: that a truly free media must operate in an environment where the politics of the state’s other democratic institutions do not infiltrate each other.
An environment that is safe, and wonderfully democratic, accountable, efficient. In other words, not a country on the cusp of war and undergoing violent civil war, still struggling with its own democratic aspirations. And truly, Pakistan has a long way to go. 71 journalists were killed last year alone and hundreds were arrested. The state has been unable to protect these people; their rights and their lives have been repeatedly placed in the line of fire. There is no contesting the fact that Pakistan is an unsafe place- for everybody. For the police, for the media, for women, for the working class, for lawyers and liberals.
To pin labels like “most dangerous” and “most safe” based purely on a statistical analysis, is flawed and reductionist, especially for an institution that engages actively with the state on a daily basis. The analysis is not so much wrong as it is uninspiring (and uninspired). The limitations of a “free” media in a complex, conflict-ridden country must be analysed differently, and comprehensively alongside statistics. What is most problematic to the UN, is the very machinery from which the news reports emerge: the state. That is what the news is. What makes Pakistan a dangerous country for journalists, is what makes Pakistan a dangerous country, period. Since the index is based in comparison, China clocks in just five places behind, and the United States comes in at 46th place (out of 180). But these are political and economic superpowers doing badly. Clearly there are many more problematics to the equation that are not being studied.
Bottom line, these lists do not allow for comprehensive analysis, and serve to discourage local and international journalists from reporting the truth. Yes, it is a terrifying and dangerous exercise, and the media must be forewarned. But there must be a more measured way to do it.