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‘Journalists Face Intimidation, Violence’: Pakistan Ranks 139th In Press Freedom Index

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Pakistan is ranked 139th in the 2018 Press Freedom Index according to the Reporters Sans Frontières. On its website, RSF reported several cases of ‘brazen censorship’. The body cited examples of English daily Dawn and Geo TV whose distribution and broadcasting respectively were interrupted.

RSF also mentioned that media outlets were ‘threatened with withdrawal of advertising’ and that ‘cruder methods were deployed as the general elections 2018 drew closer’. “Intimidation, physical violence and arrests were used against journalists who crossed the red line by trying to cover stories deemed off limits,” RSF said.

The organization also mentioned the Pakistan Media Regulatory Authority (PMRA) – an umbrella body aimed at regulating all forms of media e.g. electronic, digital and print – saying that the ‘regulation’ was clearly intended to mean ‘censorship’. “Journalists meanwhile continue to be at risk in the field, especially in the western provinces of Baluchistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where reporters are caught in the crossfire between the security forces and armed rebels,” RSF added.

Talking to Naya Daur, journalist Amir Zia said the situation in the media in Pakistan was better than it used to be in the past. Zia said that in comparison to other Muslim countries, South Asian countries and states like China and Singapore, media had more freedom.

“We cannot turn into Brussels because our society has not evolved in ways the Western societies have, but the situation for media in Pakistan is relatively better than the other countries in the region. There are some topics which we have to be careful about when covering, but that happens everywhere. For example, in many countries, people cannot talk about the holocaust out of the fear for backlash,” he said.

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Speaking about the blockage of TV channels, Zia said that channels are to be blamed too. He said there is a difference between propaganda and reporting and some channels resort to the former. He said libel and defamation laws in Pakistan should be stronger, and journalists should be trained in them properly.

When asked about cable operators taking down TV channels, journalist Matiullah Jan told Naya Daur said that it was but one of the tools only; the real problem lied in self-censorship. “Cable operators took down Channel 24 and sister channels of the organisation before PEMRA took action. People are afraid of speaking now due to such actions”.

He also said that journalists and media houses were being economically strangled. “Many journalists have been fired and not only that, they are finding it even harder to land new jobs,” the journalist said. Jan also called the PMRA ‘a conspiracy’ and ‘a white elephant’, adding that for the first time, print media was going to be regulated too.

Journalist Muhammad Ziauddin called PMRA ‘a black law’. He opined that PMRA does not aim to regulate social media as much as it aims to regulate the mainstream media.

“Regulation of social media is a global phenomenon. Germany has already introduced laws to regulate social media, and the United Kingdom and France are pondering over introducing laws of their own. I have read the entire text of the PMRA mandate, and I can say that it’s worse than Ayub Khan’s Press and Publications Order. PMRA is not meant to regulate social media, but the mainstream media. Government might use it to curb media freedom,” Ziauddin said.

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