Pakistan is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists and it is becoming an increasingly difficult place for media personnel to work here safely.
Pakistan has been a “frontline state” for almost four decades, which has polarised society and destroyed people’s sense of security.
Over the last decade, I’ve seen Pakistan’s media industry experience remarkable growth and transformation, largely due to the advent of private TV channels. However, the safety and security of media practitioners here has deteriorated markedly.
More than 50 journalists have been targeted and murdered since 2002, according to research by the Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF).
The threat to journalists like me has grown dramatically in the past decade with the alarming rise in militancy. The Pakistani Taliban and other militant groups have posed an ever greater threat to journalists – and to all citizens – since 2002 when, in the wake of 9/11, the government began to try to counter their rising power and influence.
Journalists are not only targeted by militants, but also by political, religious, ethnic and other pressure groups, as well as law enforcement agencies.
For every journalist who has been deliberately targeted and murdered, many others have been injured, threatened and coerced into silence.
The increase in threats and violence has forced many of my colleagues to resort to self-censorship, relocation or even to leave the profession altogether. As a consequence, news reports from conflict areas are based on press releases, not on observations by independent journalists, so they often lack credibility and do not inform the public in an objective manner.
Incidents of threats, attacks and killings of journalists are also clear evidence of the entrenched culture of impunity enjoyed by those who attack and murder journalists, which seriously undermines freedom of expression in the country. And it’s not just journalists, there’s been a worrying rise in attacks against bloggers too; since the start of the year, four bloggers have been hacked to death.
Pakistan ranks in the top 10 on the Impunity Index compiled by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). Other global media freedom watchdogs such as Freedom House and Reporters Without Borders share similar concerns on the deteriorating safety situation for the media in Pakistan.
But there have been some positive developments.
In 2014, we saw a Pakistani court convict six defendants for their role in the murder of a Geo TV journalist who was shot dead in Karachi in 2011. This was only the second time that court convicted murderers of journalists, the other being the killers of Daniel Pearl, a correspondent for the Wall Street Journal.
The creation of the Pakistan Coalition of Media Safety (PCOMS) has been another bright spot. PCOMS has been working to implement the UN Action Plan Against Impunity in Pakistan and has played an important role in bringing together multiple national and international organisations.
The Federal Minister of Information and Broadcasting, Pervez Rasheed, is a member of PCOMS’ steering committee and has endorsed the UN Action Plan Against Impunity. But so far I’ve seen very few concrete efforts made by the government to promote the safety of media professionals.
The safety of media cannot improve substantially if it remains predominantly an initiative of civil society organisations.
International News Safety Institute