Need for free press
This May 3rd, World Press Freedom Day, marks the launch of a new website to facilitate exchanges among journalists within the country and with the foreign press. The website, www.asiamediaforum.org, was conceptualised at a meeting in Koh Samui, Thailand in October 2004, at the Asia Media Forum (AMF) initiated by editors from across Asia (Pakistan was represented by Ghazi Salahuddin of The News). The website is hosted by Inter Press Service (IPS) and supported by Action Aid International.
As always, UNESCO held an international conference to mark World Press Freedom Day. This year’s theme is ‘Media and Good Governance’ discussed at the three-day conference in Dakar, ending on May 3. The focus is the media’s direct input in promoting good governance, including the people’s participation in the process of governance and elections, and the media’s watchful eye on anti-corruption efforts and rule of law.
Leading professionals at the Dakar conference noted the media’s crucial role in addressing the topics relating to poverty and human rights, and highlighted the necessity of freedom of, and access to information, observance of journalistic ethics and training of journalists on investigative reporting as prerequisites in developing informed societies that ensure good governance.
World Press Freedom Day is an occasion to gauge the quantum of media freedom and remind the rulers about the importance of an independent media that can address power imbalances. It is also a reminder to media policy makers to focus on the citizens’ information needs, and to understand that open information creates transparency, accountability and growth of democracy. Policy makers also need to build an infrastructure for media to help regulate, protect and promote freedom of expression.
On their part, journalists need to introspect on their news content and the need to go beyond the headlines with more investigative reporting, particularly on issues relating to those who are traditionally marginalised and have no other platforms of expression.
In Pakistan, the apparent freedom of the press is hardly reflected in the ‘real spirit’ of the freedom of press and democracy in Pakistan. A ‘functional free press’ is free of corporate and government control. Pakistan’s recent history reveals that both the corporate and government control over media has taken a new shape. Corporate greed and monopolistic trends in the media industry have thrust this industry into indirect and invisible subjugation of government control. Both seem to be protecting each other’s interests — corporate or political.
We need to continue pushing for more space in the media to cater to the people’s need for information that is oxygen for democratic governance. If people do not know what is happening in society and if their rulers’ actions are hidden, their participation in governance and society is curtailed and their right of information further marginalized. Freedom of information is equally essential for the people and the rulers, in order to ensure good governance. Only bad governments promote a culture of secrecy for their survival. Good governments make democracy functional by ensuring sovereignty of parliament, independence of judiciary and freedom of press.
The existing culture of secrecy and silence can be countered by implementing the existing federal Freedom of Information law, despite its many lacunae. These need to be removed, and the law replicated in all the provinces in order to provide government information to the people and create an informed citizenry. That is the true spirit of the freedom of expression.
Source: The News