Freedom of expression under threat: report

New policies and practices can seriously undermine freedom of expression and safety of journalists, asserted in Pakistan Press Freedom report issued by Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF) on World Press Freedom Day on Tuesday

The report cites that Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) strict notifications to private television channels, banning on speeches and interviews by Muttahida Qaumi Movement founder Altaf Hussain and the failure of the judicial commission to fulfill its mandated responsibility to identify the culprits behind the murderous attack on popular television talk show host Hamid Mir are the key recent developments that are threatening freedom of expression and acting as an impunity for crimes against media.

The report further stresses on the fact that free expression is under threat, witnessed in the Cyber Crime bill passed by the National Assembly, that could be used to limit free expression in Pakistan’s cyber space; while banning of feature film “Maalik” and two documentaries ‘Among the Believers’ and ‘Besieged in Quetta’ are few other examples. There is no justification in banning content that is not prohibited by law and does not incite violence and added that the government’s hardline policy in defining what is acceptable could also have grave repercussions for revival of Pakistan’s nascent film industry, the report added.

A number of positive developments related to freedom of expression and safety of media in Pakistan are also mentioned in the report. Lifting of the ban on YouTube after three years, creation of “Editors for Safety”, the decision of the Sindh Police to reinvestigate the killing of journalist in Larkana District Shan Dahar and the conviction of the killer of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa journalist Ayub Khattak are among the positive developments.

The report highlights the issue that the process of issuing strict notifications by PEMRA to private television channels to revisit their broadcasting according to media rules in 2014 after the murderous attack on a private television channel host Hamid Mir continues unabated, as the directives impinge on editorial independence of Pakistan’s television news channels.

Moreover, PEMRA has been issuing directives and press advise to television channels on a range of issues including coverage of Pakistan’s decision not to send ground forces to Yemen, the tragedy in Mina in which many Pakistani citizens died; the coverage of the funeral of Mumtaz Qadri, the convicted killer of Punjab governor Salman Taseer, and the ban on the broadcast of images and speeches by MQM founder Altaf Hussain.

The report termed the leaked report of the Judicial Commission of Hamid Mir as a setback for efforts to combat impunity for crimes against media, and added that the commission’s report displayed a depressing failure on part of the commission in fulfilling its core responsibility, which included ascertaining facts, identifying culprits and fixing responsibility for the murderous attack on Mir. The Pakistan Press Freedom Report calls the government to officially release the Commission report including all its annexure, appendices and submissions by Hamid Mir and other witnesses.

The reports further documents that twelve media personnel were injured in three separate incidents of violence in the first four months of 2016.

Pakistan Today