ISLAMABAD: The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has strongly urged the government to acknowledge and promptly address constraints to press freedom.
In a statement released on Wednesday at the launch of its report investigating recent curbs on newspaper distribution and journalists’ freedom of expression, HRCP said, “The new government must uphold freedom of expression across the print and broadcast media to establish its democratic credentials. Its commitment to ensuring that all state-run media have complete editorial independence is an important and welcome step, but this is still the tip of the iceberg. The government has inherited a difficult situation in terms of curbs on press freedom, but having done so, it must now acknowledge and take responsibility for the actions of all state institutions and services in this context. This means investigating allegations of continued unlawful interference with newspaper distribution among private media organisations. It will also entail monitoring the press freedom announced for state-run media to see if it extends to areas that the security establishment had set out of bounds for the press, such as the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM).”
“There is also overwhelming evidence that corroborates reports of the systematic, strategic intimidation and harassment of journalists and social media activists – to the point that an increasing number of media persons feel compelled to practice self-censorship at the expense of professional, objective journalism. There appears to be little compunction about intimidating journalists and their families, subjecting them to vicious character assassinations through social media and creating fear through reprisals in the shape of abductions and physical attacks. Moreover, arbitrary media blackouts of ‘sensitive’ areas, notably North and South Waziristan, does not point to a ‘free’ or ‘independent’ media,” the statement added.
HRCP called on the federal and provincial governments and all other state institutions and services to take appropriate steps to prohibit and prevent unauthorised, illegal interference with freedom of expression in the country. It urged the government to ensure that there should be no interference in the sale and distribution of any newspaper, nor should any TV channels be deliberately displaced and the system of issuing ‘press advice’ on the part of state agencies must cease immediately and the complaints documented in HRCP’s report redressed. The state must also set up complete and effective information commissions in each province to implement its obligations under the Right of Access to Information Act 2017.