KARACHI: Pakistan is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for media persons, as it has already witnessed the murder of 72 journalists since 2002, stated a report of Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF), whose executive summary was shared at a seminar on “State of Pakistani Media 2018” held at the Karachi Press Club on Tuesday.
The report said that from special coercive law to blatant censorship, the Pakistani media has witnessed many forms of oppression in its 71 years of struggle-filled existence. In 2018, the media also endured an unprecedented level of imposed self-censorship through tactics unbecoming of a responsible state.
Senior politicians and journalists addressed the seminar and discussed problems, including restrictions and self-censorship being faced by the media industry and the journalist community in Pakistan.
Speaking on the occasion, PPF Secretary General Owais Aslam Ali said that the media industry has been facing several restrictions and curbs for long. He asked the journalist community to write investigation reports about the journalists who have been murdered in the country, to unearth if they were killed due to their role in journalism or over personal enmity. He said that when the United Nations (UN) prepares reports regarding murders of journalists and sends it to governments of their respective countries, the Pakistani government does not have full knowledge of whether the slain journalists were murdered due to their professionalism or over personal issues.
Former information minister Javed Jabbar said that facts and realities mentioned in the PPF’s summary are very sad and harsh He said, however, the temperament of Pakistani people is democratic which is why elections are held in institutions from press clubs to bars. Javed Jabbar also said that despite immense pressure, the Pakistani media, especially English media, has been publishing bold and critical editorials and columns. “In 56 Muslim countries, Pakistan has more freedom of expression and press freedom,” he said. However, he criticised some media houses for recruiting non-professional people for journalistic duties.
Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Senator Taj Haider said that all unions of journalists should join hands to formulate a joint policy as all democratic political parties of the country had come on a single page during the Movement for Restoration of Democracy (MRD). There are two parties in the country – establishment and the masses, he said, adding that it is time to take sides.
Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader Khawaja Tariq Aziz said the rulers are using a divide and rule formula to weaken the Pakistani media. He said that getting information is the right of people. He said that the issues faced by this country could not be resolved till the parliament is strengthened.
Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) leader Zahid Askari said that today, the Pakistani media is facing grave challenges. He said that his party would support the journalists on every forum. He said that the maltreatment and sacking of journalists are regrettable.
Karachi Press Club General Secretary Arman Sabir said that unity is crucial for journalists. He said that it is the weakness of the journalist fraternity that there are so many divisions. He said that the scope of formal media is shrinking fast as social media is becoming more and more influential. He regretted that due to government pressure, the media industry in Pakistan is working under self-censorship.
Karachi Press Club President Imtiaz Khan Faran said, “We are not hopeless and we will never be.” He said that it is now time to reinvent the media and cater to the needs of modern times. He said that professional media institutions, which provide true information to people, are facing immense pressure. He asked the political parties to play their role in the promotion of freedom of press and expression in the country.
Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) President G M Jamali said that the biggest hurdle for the fraternity is disunity amongst media professionals. He regretted that there are so many groups of journalists in our country, adding that due to this bitter and sharp divide, journalists’ voice is not being heard properly.
Jamali said that hundreds of media workers have already been sacked but journalists could not raise a strong voice for them. He stressed the need of unity of media persons, saying that there is no alternative.
Dr Jabbar Khattak of Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors (CPNE) said that media house owners prefer their vested interests to the interests of journalists or the media in general. He said that the issues faced by the media need a serious focus of all stakeholders, including the government.
Suhail Afzal of PFUJ-Dastoor, Kamal Siddiqui of the Centre for Excellence in Journalism (CEJ) and other senior journalists and writers also spoke on the occasion and asked the government to resolve journalists’ issues.