- Much needs to be done
By: Mosin Saleem Ullah
The media have for many years been the lifeline of freedom of expression. The presence of pluralism and independence of the media are essential to democratic rule, and freedom of the media is crucial to the practice of journalism. People who exercise their right to freedom of expression through journalism must be allowed to practice their work without restrictions. This is the responsibility of not just the state, courts, media companies and journalist organizations, but also of NGOs and civil society, in the era of globalization and digitization.
Every day we see new forms of censorship and repression, self-censorship, surveillance, monitoring and control, gatekeeping, propaganda, disinformation, acts of terror, anti-terror laws, criminalization of encryption and/or anonymity, hate speech and harassment, and organized crime. These are critical issues in many countries, but especially in zones facing social, ethnic and political stress, armed conflicts or disaster situations.
Given the diversity of threats faced by the Pakistani journalists and its adverse effects on their professionalism, there is an urgent need to have a safety mechanism
Over the past 20 years, international organizations monitoring press freedom and media rights have been underlining threats to journalists’ safety worldwide. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, more than a thousand journalists have been killed since 1992, and the killers remained unidentified in the majority of cases, especially in democratic regimes such as Pakistan. While the high-profile cases of Western journalists’ killings and kidnapping gain media attention (such as of Daniel Pearl or Marie Colvin), violence against journalists working in conflict areas and non-democratic regions have grown worse. There are countries worldwide (such as Brazil, Mexico, Somalia, Philippine, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Russia), where threats to journalists’ safety have increased due to existing impunity, which indicates that those who are involved in journalists’ killings and violence against them are never prosecuted. The impunity for a crime against journalists gives an explicit message that silencing journalists is acceptable.
The case of Pakistan is complicated once analyzing the threats to journalists’ safety. Even though the country is much better off than countries such as Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Somalia that have been torn apart by civil war and internal conflict, Pakistan’s numbers of violence against journalists are parallel to these countries. Reports by international organizations have reiterated that the country’s journalists work in an unsafe environment where their safety is at stake due to multiple reasons. The point of concern is that the Pakistani journalists confront direct physical and psychological threats across the country, which ‘may have increased’ over the past two decades, while international organizations monitoring press freedom and media rights have been underlining threats to journalists’ safety worldwide. The existing climate of impunity in Pakistan can also pose a threat to journalists’ freedom– especially for adhering to the principles of truthfulness and accuracy. These facts call for a deeper investigation of the issues related to impunity, while journalists’ safety and professional journalism in the country affect their ability to practice necessary professional standards (especially truthfulness, accuracy, and impartiality).
Silencing these actors by violence and threats constitutes a serious threat to freedom of expression and as such, it is the ultimate act of censorship. Equally worrying is the fact that for more than nine in ten cases of journalists’ killings, the crimes remain unsolved. The end result is a vicious cycle of impunity, in addition to a very likely chilling effect on society in a climate of fear and self-censorship. There is a need to pay heed to the flagrant number of unresolved journalists’ murders and lack of penalization for their perpetrators across the globe.
In Pakistan, journalists employ self-censorship to report on news stories and compromise on the principles of objectivity, truthfulness, and accuracy mainly because they don’t want to be a victim of threats from various sources (either government or political parties or religious groups or media owners). In such circumstances, can Pakistan’s media be viewed as watchdog or mirror of the society? The answer is true, No! Thus, an emphasizes should be laid on government’s, media organizations’ and journalists’ unions’ collective actions for promoting safe and free journalism that is indispensable for truthful, accurate and impartial reporting in the sake of public’s interest and their right to know in Pakistan. Nevertheless, given the diversity of threats faced by the Pakistani journalists and its adverse effects on their professionalism, there is an urgent need to have a safety mechanism that not only serves to enhance journalists’ safety level, but also counters the issues of delayed justice.