In its current Press Freedom Index, Reporters without Borders (RSF) has ranked Pakistan 145 out of 180 countries. With a score of +1.34, which was 45.52 in 2020, Pakistan has been having a consistent position on the Press Freedom Index since 2020. However, the situation on the ground looks gloomy as for as press freedom is concerned at home. The newly-released report by Freedom Network Pakistan reveals startling facts about cherished freedom of the press in the country. According to the findings of the report, more or less 6 journalists have been killed since May 2020 and 7 unsuccessful assassination attempts have been recorded.
Respectively, analyzing long-term data on the killing of journalists in Pakistan can paint a clearer picture of the vulnerability and dangers faced by journalists across the country. Data on the number of journalists killed in Pakistan since 1994 reveals that the space for freedom of expression has continuously been shrinking. Since 1994, almost 100 journalists have lost their lives in Pakistan. The years 2010, 2011, and 2012 were the most dangerous years for journalists. Collectively, 31 journalists were killed during these years.
On the other hand, in the province-wise breakdown of the data, KPK has the highest number of journalists killed since 1994. 33 journalists have been killed in KPK while Balochistan takes second place 28 followed by Sindh 26 and Punjab 9. After KPK, Balochistan remains the most dangerous place for journalists to carry out their duties. The analysis of yearly data taken from the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), unveils that the repressiveness that was witnessed in the years 2010 until 2015 is revisiting the country.
Balochistan in focus
With 28 journalists killed in Balochistan since 1994, the province has been the second most dangerous land for journalists in Pakistan. In the latest wave of unleashed violence against journalists in Balochistan, Abdul Wahid Raisani, Sub Editor of Daily Azadi Quetta, was gunned down on April 25, 2021.
“Balochistan has a historical perspective in this regard. The province has been volatile in terms of peace. It has been a conflict-affected place. Moreover, Balochistan has been a tribal society rather than being democratic in essence. In a tribal setup saying the truth and asking have not been easy. However, modern-day journalism which is based on investigation has made it more difficult. Working on this principle will invite more troubles for the journalist,” says Pakistan-based representative of RSF, Mr. Iqbal Khattak.
Furthermore, according to Mr. Iqbal, the intensity of conflict in the province has fanned the volatility and vulnerability for journalists given the adoption of the ‘physical elimination’ approach by both ends. Both the banned outfits and state have tried to suppress the press and this has increased the repressiveness.
The mysterious deaths
Surprisingly, in most cases, the motive behind the killing of a journalist remains unconfirmed which keeps the mystery prevail over the killing. However, even the motive behind killing the journalists is confirmed, yet the murdering of a journalist receives a lukewarm response from the governments or it hardly reaches to lodging a First Information Report (FIR). Despite the fact that the confirmed motive behind the killing of a journalist must be a strong clue to start an investigation into the case to reach the culprits, the instances where the bereaved families have received justice are far and few between.
Out of 28 killed journalists, the motive behind 17 cases (60.7%) is confirmed. Furthermore, out of 17 confirmed cases, actors behind killing 9 (32.1%) journalists have been confirmed. Nonetheless, none of the culprits involved in the killing of 28 journalists has been brought to justice.
“Impunity in the murders of journalists is growing serious. There are only three instances where culprits have been identified and accused killing of journalists but the execution of penalties given by the higher judiciary has never been materialized. Freeing culprits in three cases: Daniel Pearl, Wali Khan Babar and one from KPK is not a coincidence. Are there weaknesses in our investigation?” askes Mr. Iqbal Khattak while elaborating the culture of impunity with respect to the killing of journalists.
On a dangerous assignment
Out of 28 killed journalists, 6 (21.4%) were on dangerous assignments. In few cases, journalists are the culprits behind their murder too. Lack of risk assessment training invites more dangers.
“Journalists have to move in an opposite direction. A journalist moves from a safe place to a dangerous one. Doing a dangerous assignment needs evaluation of risks involved in the assignment. A journalist should know the risk factor. For example, who are the threat actors, and what is the risk mitigation plan. If these factors are not taken into account before a dangerous assignment, it’s like inviting danger,” Mr. Iqbal adds.
“Indeed, a journalist has pressure from organizations but I believe that journalists must learn to say ‘no’. If the higher risk is involved in the story, a journalist should not do it however pressure he/she must have from the organization. A journalist should do an assignment if only he/she knows that he/she is prepared to sustain the risk and his/her organization is committed to standing by him/her,” Mr. Iqbal stresses on proper training of journalists needed to cover assignments involving risks.
Necessary legislation to protect journalists
Iqbal Khattak believes that like separate laws available for various segments of society to deal with issues pertaining to specific segments, protection of journalists must be ensured by enacting strong laws and separate courts must be established to ensure speedy justice for the journalists killed or murdered. For Khattak, media should not be treated as a villain.
“In terms of laws facilitating journalists to carry their professional work, one could only think of Right to Information laws. Secondly, Laws are very important and one should continue striving for laws for protecting journalists and provide freedom of speech. But in the context of Pakistan, laws alone play a very insignificant role in making sure the rights are protected. More than the law alone, it’s the society’s culture where a huge majority of the people should believe that (freedom of speech) and if it’s violated will face the wrath of people who believe that there should be freedom of speech and journalists should be safe. Demanding a law alone is not enough. We have to struggle for the rule of law,” believes Ahmed Bilal Mehboob, President of Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development.
Finally, the data analyzed reveals that space for journalists to work and write freely is shrinking rapidly in Pakistan. Moreover, the current repressive measures taken by the ruling government along with the problems unleashed by the Pandemic have further increased the hurdles for the journalists to carry out their professional duties. The more repressive measures the more it will be difficult to ensure an accurate flow of information. Resultantly, this will lead to an uncontrolled flow of misinformation which has already infested the majority of the masses in Pakistan.
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