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Freedom of Press is Nothing More than a Dream in Pakistan

Karachi: ‘Freedom of the press in Pakistan is nothing more than a dream’, ‘Media freedom is not possible without the protection of journalists’, ‘Government officials resort to threats when contacted to collect information ‘, ‘Journalists are helpless due to their division into different factions’, ‘What is the use of such a Safety Commission that cannot solve problems’, ‘the Human Rights Commission has condemned attacks and violence against journalists’. These views have been expressed by the senior journalist and the found of Journalism for Human Rights, Sadia Mazhar, head of Pakistan’s non-governmental organization Institute for Research, Advocacy and Development (IRADA) Muhammad Aftab Alam, founder of the organization of women journalists in Pakistan Women Journalists Association and former joint secretary of National Press Club Islamabad Fouzia Kalsoom Rana and the Executive Director of Freedom Network, Iqbal Khattak in response to the question “How free is Pakistani media?”.

Sadia Mazhar said that freedom of the press in Pakistan is still nothing more than a dream and professional journalism has to struggle the most against misinformation and disinformation in the digital media age. In the last 12 months in Pakistan, more than 140 incidents of attacks and threats against journalists have been reported, which is 63% more than the previous year. She said that when she started using Article 19-A of the Right to Information Act against false propaganda and lies in the name of journalism, she was constantly threatened and harassed by government agencies. According to Sadia Mazhar, she just wanted to know for example how much the elected members of parliament from her constituency have done for their constituencies in provincial and national assemblies. Why are private institutions given land at throwaway prices by the government and for example how much has the Sindh government spent on education and government schools so far? The result was that she received daily messages on her mobile phone from unknown numbers with the intention of threatening her. She said that as a journalist she had only asked whether the land in the city of Sahiwal, Punjab, on which the Sahiwal Club building is built is government land or not. But instead, a case was registered against her in response.

Muhammad Aftab Alam says how can media freedom be ensured without the protection of journalists. If media is not free, then freedom of expression will also diminish and democratic values will weaken instead of strengthening.

Fouzia Kalsoom Rana said that attacks on journalists and freedom of the press in Pakistan have become such a big problem that recently the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan has also condemned attacks on journalists and violent crimes against them in its latest annual report. On the other hand, journalists’ organizations raise slogans but do not seem to take practical steps to protect the rights of journalists. Journalists’ organizations in Pakistan are divided into small factions, which is why the movement to protect journalists is also weak.

Iqbal Khattak said that Pakistan is the first country in Asia where laws have been enacted not only at the federal level but also at the provincial level in Sindh for the protection of journalists. However, the existence of the Safety Commission established under them exists only on paper so far. The federal government did not even form the Safety Commission while the Sindh government formed the commission after one and a half years but neither provided any resources nor staff for it. After the enactment of these laws in 2021, 11 journalists have been killed so far, while about 70 journalists have faced various threats, assaults, violent incidents, and legal cases, so the question is what is the benefit of such laws for the protection of journalists when they could not prevent attacks and threats against them?