Freedom of Speech Under Siege In Pakistan

Freedom of Speech Under Siege In Pakistan
The fourth pillar of democracy is under attack in Pakistan and it seems like no one is concerned about it. It feels like yesterday when we would watch Arshad Sharif on a television channel hosting his program and it seems unreal that he is no more between us. Many of us have forgotten that he even existed. Arshad Sharif was not the first one who was silenced by the unknown or perhaps we can say the known. Many journalists in the past were killed, thrown off-air, terminated, and threatened all so they could not expose those who were discovered to be.

The role of political parties in this situation is very biased. Every political party has their favourites and some of the journalists go the extra step in supporting a particular narrative of a party. Today the situation of journalism in Pakistan can be blamed as being unprofessional but it merely is a trap in where some seek short-term success.

During Imran Khan’s tenure, many journalists who criticised the government or the role of the Establishment suffered. Hamid Mir was pulled off air for a long time, Asad Ali Toor was attacked by unknown men in his apartment, Matiullah Jan was abducted and Absar Alam got shot. This depicted the negligence of Imran Khan's Government. The culprits behind the attack are still not arrested to date.

Fast forward to today when PML-N is in government and the power dynamics of the media changed. Yet attacks on the media continued. Journalists like Ayaz Amir got attacked and beaten by unknown men, Sami Ibrahim was attacked and Imran Riaz Khan faced FIRs in different cities of Pakistan. Unfortunately, during this political turmoil, we lost Arshad Sharif who was killed in Kenya.

Unfortunately, our media has chosen its sides and has started reporting these incidents in its colors. One happens to be a victim of this too. I wrote a column for a magazine led by one of the most prominent journalists of Pakistan who also was tilted towards Imran Khan's government. I wrote a similar column like this in which I discussed the issues faced by the journalists of Pakistan, it got accepted and stayed in their magazine for 18 hours before they terminated it without letting me know. The reason was obvious. I talked about the whole journalist community, not only those in favor of Imran Khan, which led to their termination.

There are multiple other examples of journalists getting harassed. Everyone nowadays with a YouTube channel calls him or herself nothing less than a journalist, from fake accusations to trolling each other to an unbearable extent and now even defaming women for views. So much misinformation is spread through YouTube where there is no editorial policy or no double-checking of the information.

According to the ethics of journalism, a journalist only covers a story and gives facts and figures collected by them and which have been approved by their editor, and then they either publish it or get it on air. There is also the need to differentiate between what is an opinion in which one’s own thoughts are shared and what is a report which is meant to consist of factual information only.

Anyone who is giving his or her opinion based on their knowledge or experience might be a good analyst or columnist but cannot be called a journalist. Sitting at home writing a 700-word opinion can make you a good columnist but it won’t make a person a journalist.

There is a need to make proper unbiased and independent media regulatory authorities that do not make laws according to the Government which is in power but rather make laws for the betterment of freedom of speech in Pakistan. As democracy is standing on pillars and if one of the pillars gets damaged it can cause serious issues.