May 3rd is celebrated by UNESCO every year as a reminder to governments of the need to respect their commitment to press freedom. It is also a day of reflection among media professionals about issues of press freedom and professional ethics as well as a day of remembrance for those journalists who lost their lives in the pursuit of a story.
The 2020 World Press Freedom index brought down Pakistan’s ranking on press freedom another three notches to reach 145th position out of 180 countries last year.
Attempts at controlling newspapers and TV networks have taken many forms in Pakistan. Press advice is the simplest way to force the media to adhere to arbitrary norms setup by the governments without consultation with the media stakeholders. This leads to self censorship, that keeps reporting about certain areas and institutions out of bounds for the newspapers and TV channels.
Another method by the governments to keep the media under thumb is complete or partial denial of public sector advertisements to papers or channels considered independent. This has forced some of the private media establishments to reduce their staff even at the risk of the deterioration of the paper or the channel’s quality besides making scores of journalists unemployed.
Individual reporters that venture into the forbidden areas are made to pay a heavy price. Cases were registered against three journalists last year for inciting citizens to rebel against the military, putting up anti-Pakistan posts, and on suspicions of sedition and treason.
A journalist was forcibly kidnapped last year from Islamabad. As the action was caught on CCTV cameras, this led to widespread condemnation by the legal community and the opposition parties. He had to be released finally at the orders of IHC.
Harassment is common and can lead to tragic incidents According to the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), nine media workers from Pakistan were among the 65 killed worldwide in 2020 while performing their jobs
The way the media is being treated in Pakistan has brought a bad name to the country. Most recently, Secretary of State Antony Blinken has joined critics, expressing concern over “significant restrictions” on media outlets and on the civil society in Pakistan.