KARACHI: Though Article 19 of the constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) guarantees freedom of expression and free media but media in Pakistan continued to be in chains or under a strict form of physical intimidation like killings and self-censorship regime during 2019 like preceding years.
It is revealed by the Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors (CPNE) in its Pakistan Media Freedom Report 2019 issued here on Sunday.
It has a compilation of cases, number of victims and sequence of events that made a mockery of freedom of media and freedom of speech in the country.
The report says that despite the fact that there is a specific law on defamation but the government and other actors used the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA), Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) and Pakistan Penal Code’s (criminalization) sections against media practitioners in Pakistan.
At least 60 journalists were booked under the Anti-Terrorism Act 1997 in 35 cases which included 50 journalists from Sindh province alone.
The report said that the first-ever conviction for possession of banned material was also made. Chaudhry Nasrullah, member of Karachi Press Club was jailed for five years on alleged possession of banned material.
According to available data at least seven journalists reportedly were murdered during the year 2019 while reports suggest at least 15 journalists were injured during attacks in the line of duty.
The mysterious and unidentified actors (‘unknown’) constituted the biggest threat to press freedom as it was in the previous year as well. The second biggest threats to the lives of journalists were non-state actors, outlawed terrorist and militant groups, who continued their attacks on journalists and media in the previous year too, the report mentioned.
The pathetic state of un-announced impunity for those who attack the media can be perceived from the fact that not a single killer or attacker of journalists and media persons was brought to justice.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa while taking a lead introduced the first provincial law on Right to Information (RTI) followed by Punjab and Sindh respectively. The Federal Capital adopted new legislation on RTI as well. However, in the province of Balochistan, RTI laws remained a distant dream, the report noted.
It further stated that it was claimed by the government that cyber law- Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) 2016 would deal with cyber-crimes and online harassment of women and, would not be used against journalists & media. But on the contrary, the same law had been used against media freedom and freedom of expression in one way or another.
In a flagrant attempt to curb media freedom, the PTI government announced to form Special Tribunals (Media Courts) to tighten its grip on media. But due to strong opposition by CPNE and other stakeholders, the government dropped the proposal.
Press Information Department in a move to introduce advertisement policy by the federal government shared a draft of the proposed policy with various stakeholders, including CPNE.
According to media professionals, the advertisements are being used as a tool to restrict media freedom and keeping this in view CPNE shared its feedback on the policy.
According to the World Press Freedom Index, Pakistan ranked 142 out of 180 (comparison) countries, which gives an indication of how media in Pakistan was under threat. On the other side extreme fear and self-censorship continued haunting media freedom and free expression in the country, the report observed
According to available data at least, seven journalists including Urooj Iqbal, Mirza Wasim Baig, Muhammad Bilal Khan, Ali Sher Rajpar and Malik Amanullah Khan reportedly were murdered during the year.
Due to its stories and content, Daily Dawn came under the severe attack as its offices were besieged by angry organized mobs in Islamabad and Karachi; while foul language was used against the Dawn management, including its Chief Editor Zaffar Abbas, the report lamented.
Discussing the PEMRA’s role, CPNE reported that PEMRA not only issued notices to TV channels but barred some anchors from offering opinions on TV channels and talk shows. It was ordered not to discuss the issue pertaining release of PML-N leader Shahbaz Sharif on bail. TV channels were directed not to cover live telecast of PML-N leader Maryam Nawaz’s press conference and were also issued notices for non-compliance, added the report.
An interview of Asif Ali Zardari, former President of Pakistan and Co-Chairman of Pakistan Peoples’ Party with host Hamid Mir was stopped from being aired shortly after it started on Geo News in July 2019.
Geo News, 24 News, Abbtakk, Capital, and DAWN News were taken off air due to coverage of Maulana Fazalur Rehman’s press conference on Azadi March. News channel 24 News was served notice on the complaint of the Prime Minister and PEMRA imposed a fine of Rs 1 million on the channel, the report said.
CPNE report further shared that by using Anti-Terror and other laws, at-least 60 journalists were booked under the Anti Terrorism Act 1997 in 35 cases which included 50 journalists from Sindh province alone. Journalists were booked under allegations of “Bhatta Khori”, kidnapping for ransom, police encounters, attempted murder and blackmailing etc. Whereas the journalists, alleged that they were victimised owing to their fair reporting against the authorities.
In the report, Arif Nizami, President CPNE has recommended the enactment of special federal and provincial laws for safety of journalists should be done to obligate the legal system to protect journalists and special federal and provincial prosecutors be appointed. A unified self-regulated code of conduct should be introduced and implemented by media houses/ journalists bodies, he urged.
“Enacting safety policies, safety protocols and annual safety audits should be done in-house at media houses aimed at pre-empting and preventing risks, threats to their journalists, other staff and media houses. Resources should also be pooled for prosecution of crimes against journalists,” he further suggested.