Journalism in Pakistan: where do we stand?
It is not easy to understand Pakistan, a country full of contradictions and myths. As we all know Pakistan has for years been considered among the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists. Many journalists have been murdered in reprisal for their work over the past decade but sadly not one case has been solved by any government. Between the various forces that hold sway in the country, from the state and political parties to the security establishment, as well as the militant-extremist network and crime rings, there exists a web of shifting alliances. They look away or collude to bury the cases of journalists being targeted in order to suppress information. It is known that the risks of working as a journalist in any country are greatest in times of political turmoil. According to reports by various international organisations, 2011-2012 was one of the worst years for journalists the world over and Pakistan was the most dangerous place, behind crisis-hit countries like Syria, Iraq and Egypt in terms of journalists killed.
Through research I came to know that from January 2000 to the present, about 80 journalists have been killed in the country. Having spoken to renowned journalists and human rights activists for this article I did not find any journalist who has reported on security or militancy issues who has not been warned, called or detained by government security agents. More recently, bloggers, tweeters, citizen journalists and even freelance writers who are not actually in the field of journalism by profession but just write to get the truth out have been told that they are being watched.
A special report was published recently by the Committee to Protect Journalists, which highlights that we should see “the culture of manipulation, intimidation and retribution that has led to this killing spree (of journalists)”. Members of this profession are targetted by any quarter that feels too much information is being reported, with the persecutors even being affiliated with political parties and state-sponsored agencies. On the other hand, the constitution of Pakistan in Article 19 clearly says, “ 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 and article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that also guarantees the right to freedom of expression.” However, what does this freedom mean and what are the topics that are included in this word ‘freedom’? That needs to be discussed between government agencies and the journalist community. However, the question that comes to my mind is: does the state have the will to ensure that journalists are in a position to operate without fear? My answer is very simple: there have been absolutely no efforts by any government to protect journalists from threats, abductions or killings perpetrated by militant groups, which are becoming a threat to the country. They are kept on the side and no attention or security is provided to them. It is my opinion that journalists should know the red lines for discussion. However, we can see in recent years that these red lines have been crossed without any fear. Journalists should know there are limitations, ethics and a sense of honour in place when highlighting any issue. I believe the media has taken a step forward, assuming that we have a free media, but that does not mean that the media and media persons can do anything and can hit any state institution without any fear.
Recently, while watching some talk shows, I literally became depressed by the stance and agenda of the media persons. Members of the media itself are flinging allegations against each other. They should know that these programmes highlight their journalistic responsibility and ethics towards society, institutions and country. They should not consider themselves as being above the law. Their responsibility is more than that of ordinary citizens since they mould public opinion. Doing so with tinted glasses is neither fair nor desirable. As responsible citizens we should not play politics or play with our country’s image. My suggestion to the Pakistan Electronic Media Regularity Authority (PEMRA) is that proper checks and balances be maintained over programmes that highlight personal vendettas; it should be made compulsory on every channel to follow a set code of conduct. Unfortunately, the ethics of the media are being violated by the media itself. In the race for popularity and to break news first, the media does not manage to deliver the quality of information to the audience with facts and figures, and with social or moral responsibility. This, however, results in anarchy and false perceptions among the public towards certain social issues. These things should be stopped by the media and they should strictly maintain their ethics. A code of conduct may not make Pakistan a safer place for journalists but it will begin the process of institutionalising professionalism in the industry. They ought to be fully aware of their duties and must consider this profession as a mission rather than a business. The Pakistani media has bloomed very fast but it needs to learn a lot of things even now.