The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists has organized a national seminar on ‘Freedom of Press and Resolution of Media Crisis’ as part of its ‘Enough is Enough’ campaign this year, which has already seen it hold seminars in all provincial headquarters. That the PFUJ, essentially a trade union, has felt the compulsion to address this issue in this way shows first that it is not merely a case of media organizations facing the government, but that journalists’ organizations are also worried by the curbs that are being placed on journalistic freedom, not just because that is just a bad or wrong thing, but because it affects journalists’ working conditions.
There have been two developments which have made it seem that there has been an expansion of media freedom. First has been the proliferation of the electronic media, which has made it more difficult to do what censors have always tried to do: conceal information. Second, there has been a process of elections and judicial activity, creating constituencies which need the propagation of information about abuses. However, journalists and news organizations have not just had to contend with having certain areas and institutions being placed beyond criticism, but forced to deal with two new realities. First is unrelated consequences: instead of facing legal action, journalists are just abducted, or killed, or beaten up. News organisation find they risk economic strangulation, not just by the stopping of advertisements, but by bans on circulation in certain areas, enforced by strong-arm tactics. Journalists cannot help putting two and two together, which is why the combination of government claims of press freedom and the rising lack of freedom on ground has led to such worry amongst media professionals.
The need for media freedom should not be under-valued. It is not a luxury to be granted. It is actually an essential component of a vibrant democracy. The troubles being faced by the media across the border show that an illiberal regime tries to curb the media. The regime needs to decide its own nature. It will find that, liberal or not, ‘selected’ or not, it is simply not possible to run a modern state without allowing media freedom in the true sense of the term.