There is no comfort to be derived from the fact that Pakistan is the fourth-most dangerous country in the world for journalists after Mexico, the Philippines and Iraq, according to a report compiled by the International Federation of Journalists, which was released on February 3. The report looks at the state of journalist safety around the world during the last 25 years. There have been 115 journalists killed in Pakistan since 1990. They have died in a variety of ways — targeted killing, caught in the crossfire, bomb attack, ‘disappeared’ and some by the very corrupt officials they sought to expose. There hardly appears to have been a successful prosecution of anybody for the murder of a journalist in Pakistan since the turn of the century, and a very small handful of arrests made of persons alleged to have been involved in killing representatives of the Fourth Estate.
The state in its broad sense is uncomfortable with journalists that do not toe the sycophantic line, be they in print or electronic media. Those that kill journalists do so in the knowledge that they are protected by a pervasive — and effective — culture of impunity. Police forces rarely investigate the deaths of journalists and often will resist even filing an FIR. The media itself in all its iterations is a genie that is long out of the bottle, and is increasingly diverse. It is also a shape changer as those that have sought in recent weeks to regulate — censor — the internet may have realised. The internet is not like a newspaper or a television station; it is a moving target, ever evolving, and for those censoriously inclined, difficult to hit.
It must not be assumed that those journalists whose domain is primarily online are any safer than those who are in the field. There are reports of internet journalists being harassed in Pakistan, both online and in the real world. Sadly, it is probably only a matter of time before one of them joins the 115 already dead over the last quarter-century. With the state at least complicit, and in all probability culpable in some instances in the death of journalists, there is little hope for improvement in the foreseeable future, and telling truth to power remains a deadly business.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 6th, 2016.