The Plight of Press Freedom within Pakistan

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By: Muhammad Saad Atif;

The status of press freedom in Pakistan has reached rock bottom regardless of the few steps taken to improve it. A free press does the uphill task of enabling experiences and conversations that cannot only bring the altruistic under the spotlight but also grab the abusers of power by the neck. It’s evident that this nation, amongst many others, does not exactly qualify as a global champion of free speech as many governments have defeated the entire purpose of ‘press freedom’.

According to senior journalists of the country, the constraints put on press media reached higher levels. This makes it safe to state that we are indubitably witnessing ‘one of the darkest times’ concerning press freedoms. The Press of Pakistan has never really witnessed press freedom without utter inconsistencies, unjustified legal means employed to prevent journalists from speaking freely, threats, violence, economic grievances, and without the blasphemy law being implemented against journalists. A few instances that represent how desperately Pakistan needs freedom of press media include the Green Press Report’s publication which said that it’s ‘difficult and dangerous’ to work as a journalist in Pakistan. Talat Hussain’s show was banned during the government’s attempts to ‘create a scare among the journalists so that they resort to self-censorship’.

Article 19, of the Constitution of Pakistan, guarantees freedom of speech and information; however, in Pakistan, there are certain laws curtailing press freedom in the country. The Official Secrets Act states that no government official other than the minister or secretary of a ministry is allowed to pass down information to journalists or the media without authorization. The Freedom of Information Ordinance (2002) proclaims the disclosure of the information is exempt if it is probable to be harmful to the security of the state- such as sparking rebellions, the revelation of identity, or disruption of an investigation. The impositions of such laws along with the repercussions of their violations curb press activity, limit freedom of reporting and make it impossible for journalists to write their mind but may also ensure peace and harmony amongst citizens.

On the contrary press freedom however has been exercised to a little extent, for example, the transition from centralized broadcasting to an open competition broadcast system that entertained the public with some selective exposure. Additionally, the government tried to ‘legalize’ this censorship by introducing ‘special tribunals’. However, after this idea faced a huge backlash the government had to give it up. Moreover, PEMRA limited anchors’ roles by not allowing them to play the analysts’ roles on other shows- which was again reversed due to strong opposition.

Encapsulating it all, freedom of press helps in breaking communication barriers between the people and the policymakers, it allows the citizens of Pakistan to voice their concerns on domestic issues that can reach to the government to make amends, and vice versa the announcements, decisions of the government can be passed on to the citizens via the press, however, accurate information must be passed to the people, moreover, opinions should be welcome as those will help shape policies for the country.

Freedom of Press is a fundamental right that should be guaranteed by the Government in order to let Pakistan progress the rights of journalists to report freely and in an unbiased way should not be taken away they should be facilitated in exposing the truth because that is how any democracy in the world prevails.