Freedom after expression | Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Pakistan Press Foundation

Freedom after expression

Pakistan Press Foundation

Journalists all over the world are seen as the watchdogs of public interest. There is broad
international consensus that journalism is “fundamental for sustainable development, human
rights protection and democratic consolidation.” But it is also a universally recognised fact that
journalism remains a “dangerous and too often deadly profession – and nine times out of ten, the
murder of a journalist is unresolved.”

The list of international and national promises to protect journalists and media persons is long
and significant. Do these promises translate into meaningful practice? Not always. According to
the UNESCO Observatory of Killed Journalists, more than 1,650 journalists have been killed
over the last three decades. Regard for their life and security has particularly diminished in recent
years. Deaths of at least 33 journalists during regional conflicts, like the ongoing Hamas-Israel-
Hezbollah war confirm the gravity of the menace. The number of injured, missing or detained
journalists add to the lethality of the situation.
Security conditions in the non-conflict zones are equally ugly. In fact, these are getting worse.
Recent UN reports confirm this assertion. “Threats [other than killing] against journalists, online
and off-line, continue to grow, especially in non-conflict zones. Journalist imprisonment is at a
record high, while online violence – particularly against women journalists – and harassment
spurs on self-censorship and in some cases, physical attacks.” Attacks on journalists covering
security, political, religious or social and societal issues have been rising for some time. The
trend is not restricted to a particular country, region or continent. “Journalists have also
increasingly been attacked while covering protests, by various actors, including both security
forces and protest participants.”
Seriousness of the issue has prompted the UN secretary-general, Antonio Guterres, to say that
“stop targeting truth and truth-teller. As journalists stand up for truth, the world stands with
The murder of Saudi dissident and Washington Post columnist Jamal Ahmed Khashoggi in
Turkey and the mysterious target killing of one of Pakistan’s leading broadcasters, Arshad Sharif
in Kenya can sour relationships between sovereign states. Attacks on Pakistani journalists
including Hamid Mir, Matiullah Jan, Absar Alam and Ahmed Noorani prompted Brad Adams,
the Asia director of Human Rights Watch to issue a statement saying, “The frequency and
audacity with which journalists are being attacked in Pakistan is appalling.” Adams also
demanded that the Pakistani authorities should bring those responsible for these attacks to justice
and ensure that journalists can do their jobs without fear of intimidation or reprisals.”
International censure has hardly ever moved Pakistan to make sure that journalists have the
freedom to investigate, deliberate, discuss and disseminate issues of public importance. Article
19 of the UN Human Rights says everyone has a right to freedom of opinion and expression.
This right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart
information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers. Similarly, Article 19 of the
Pakistani constitution promises pretty much the same right albeit with conditions that seriously
limit its scope.
No matter how rosy and robust the rules and regulations inventoried in the penal laws are, they
are hardly any consolation to those who have been abducted, assaulted and at times
exterminated. Accusing fingers are frequently pointed towards the establishment.
Threats to journalists are not confined to developing countries or under-developed societies. In
modern times, even leading democratic countries have been indulging in actions that deny
independent journalists opportunities to perform their professional duties.

In August 2020, a cluster of prominent Pakistani female journalists issued a statement
denouncing a “well-defined and coordinated campaign” of social media attacks, including death
and rape threats against women journalists and commentators whose reporting had been critical
of the government.
Failure of the state machinery to comprehensively protect the ‘watchdogs of public interests’
attracts criticism from officials of foreign governments, representatives of multilaterals and civil
society activists with unpleasant repercussions. Non-journalistic international organisations like
the European Union and Financial Action Task Force link their help to a country to prevalent
fundamental freedoms including protection of independent media and critical media persons.
“It is disturbing to see the space for dissent and providing information of public importance
rapidly shrink in Pakistan, with journalists as well as human rights defenders particularly at risk
of censorship, physical violence and arbitrary detention,” commented Sam Zarifi, secretary
general of the International Commission of Jurists.
Threats to journalists are not confined to developing countries or under-developed societies. In
modern times, even leading democratic countries have been indulging in actions that deny
independent journalists opportunities to perform their professional duties. Often leading
journalists and broadcasters in the developed world have found themselves on the wrong side of
the powerful vested interests. Repercussions of such interaction have always been harmful for
the underdogs – the journalists.
Carlos Martinez de la Sena, programme director at the Committee to Protect Journalists, says
these figures do not come as a surprise, but as the imminent culmination of a series of factors.
“This happens in a context of the decline of press freedom, increasingly more authoritarian
states, more aggressive states against unionism and journalism, and in the context of impunity,”
he says. “So, it is not a surprise, unfortunately, that Mexico, where there is a vast prevalence in
the context of impunity, leads the count.”
Dealing with the impunity element, Dinushika Dissanayake, South Asia deputy regional director
at Amnesty International recently said: “If the authorities are committed to uphold their human
rights obligations, they must take decisive steps against censorship, harassment and violence
against journalists. For that, continued impunity must be dismantled.”
Scope for serious or investigative journalism has been shrinking for some time now as
governments are opting to be authoritarian and societies are deliberately choosing to be
intolerant. Former prime minister Imran Khan openly called some media houses “traitors.” He
did this to the joy and jubilation of his youthful following who then trained their guns at
journalists working for those media houses.
Instead of introspection and reflection about their own shortcomings, many narcissistic
politicians across the world have openly criticised journalists for their presumed failures. Former
Brazilian president Bolsonaro had described journalists as “despicable bastards.” Incumbent El
Salvador President Nayib Bukele has called journalists “political activists for the opposition.”
Similar accusations were made by the former British prime minister Boris Johnson. Police in
India have questioned and arrested founder and editor of a left-leaning news website that was

known for its criticism of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his policies. Nicaraguan
Vice President Rosario Murillo has also described journalists as “criminals” and “information
Through criticism, politicians and journalists can create a better-performing polity. But not all
politicians or state institutions have the stomach for critical commentary. That is where freedom
of expression becomes a problem for media persons. Those in power do allow some freedom of
expression. Many behave completely differently when it comes to freedom after expression.

Source: TNS

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