State of press freedom in Karachi
Senior journalists believe that strengthening of the journalistic bodies as well as imparting safety training and extending insurance cover to media persons is inevitable to protect journalists from threats and harassment in Pakistan, especially Karachi.
Karachi has emerged as one of the few highly dangerous places with respect to press freedom in Pakistan where journalists find problems in reporting due to threats, intimidation, kidnapping and even torture by not only the activists of political parties and pressure groups but also from the security and intelligence agencies.
A Karachi-based journalist recalls that he had to quit his organisation after he was threatened and immensely pressurized by the officials of a defence institution to reveal the source of his story against them or be ready to face harsh consequences.
“I had done a story on embezzlement by some officials of a defence organisation and when it was published, they pressurized me to such an extent that I was compelled to leave my job and seek employment in another newspaper,” he told on condition of anonymity.
Similarly, a female journalist of a local newspaper was harassed and threatened by the officials of an intelligence agency when she was returning to her office after meeting a foreign diplomat in Karachi.
“I was chased by two persons, who intercepted me on my way to office and harassed me for having a meeting with an Indian diplomat at a local hotel. I had gone there to perform my professional duty and there was nothing personal in it,” she claimed.
Many senior journalists based in Karachi are of the view that certain political parties, pressure groups and mafias have become a bigger threat to freedom of expression as compared to security and intelligence agencies, although they are still intimidating and harassing working journalists but comparatively at a smaller extent.
Veteran journalist Shamim-ur-Rahman, citing various incidents of threats, harassment and even torture to journalists in Karachi for their impartial reporting, has called for forging unity among the media workers and strengthening journalists’ bodies to deal with the situation.
According to him, some political parties and pressure groups were more active against working journalists than state organs, as they not only harass but also subject them to torture for reporting impartially.
Similarly, in interior of Sindh, landlords and waderas have made the lives of journalists miserable, which is evident from the kidnapping and even murder of journalists who highlighted their atrocities against local people, he added.
He called for the elimination of all such pressure groups for the freedom and access to information in its true sense but added that these were the professional hazards of journalism and journalists should be ready to face them in the countries like Pakistan.
Secretary General of Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) Mazhar Abbas said that Karachi, Balochistan and the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) were some of the most difficult areas in Pakistan where journalists face immense difficulties in reporting conflicting issues.
He believed that electronic media journalists were more vulnerable to threats and harassment from various pressure groups and security agencies as compared to print media reporters and informed that as many as nine journalists were killed in Pakistan during the last one year.
“In the given circumstances, we feel that imparting safety training and extending insurance cover to working journalists has become inevitable for their security,” he maintained.
Another senior journalist and President of Karachi Press Club (KPC) Najeeb Ahmed said that in recent years certain political parties have emerged as a major threat to journalists as compared to security and intelligence agencies in Karachi.
“Last year on May 12, several journalists were subjected to torture by the activists of a political party in the presence of police and Rangers, while such maltreatment of journalists was repeated on April 09 this year when cameras were snatched from photojournalists and reporters were manhandled by the same group,” he pointed out.
He accused the government of failing to ensure freedom of expression to media, saying: “Unless action against rogue political parties and pressure groups is not taken, provision of press freedom would only remain a hollow claim of authorities”.
Vice President of Karachi Union of Journalist (KUJ) Ashraf Khan was of the view that the issue of threats to media persons was linked to the evolution of society and its democratic institutions.
“As a whole, our attitudes are undemocratic and we are intolerant people. There are so-called political parties, pressure groups and mafias which often go to extremes in preventing journalists from objective reporting,” he commented.
He stressed the need for enacting specific laws to protect freedom of expression and their enforcement in letter and spirit.
Another journalist Qaiser Mahmood was of the opinion that state organs pose a bigger threat to freedom of expression as compared to non-state actors, as they were supposed to protect journalists but unfortunately they themselves indulge in harassing and even torturing the working journalists.
Citing the ordeal of a senior staffer of The News Ansar Abbasi, who was being pressured by the government, he said there was no difference in the attitude of rogue elements and the state security apparatus towards media persons.
Source: The News