“It is not just the freedom of press that is at risk in Pakistan, but also the access to information,” journalism teacher Dr Mehdi Hasan said on Friday.
Dr Hasan was addressing an event organised by the public affairs section of the US Consulate General to mark the World Press Freedom day observed on May 3 every year.
Dr Hasan the School of Media and Communication dean at Beaconhouse National University, said that while the press in Pakistan enjoyed a lot of freedom, it had somewhat deviated from its true job.
“As much as 87 per cent of news published in the Pakistani media is based on statements by political and religious parties,” he said, adding, “This is not news, but opinion.”
Commenting on what he called a mushroom growth of media channels in Pakistan, Dr Hasan regretted that most of the current affairs commentators on these channels were “stakeholders from various political parties”.
He said that institutions of professional editors and gatekeepers had disappeared from the print as well as the electronic media. He regretted that journalists in several media groups were not being paid their salaries regularly. He said this made 95 per cent of them volunteers rather than professionals.
He also pointed out the reporters’ lack of training, which he said, was responsible for biased and unprofessional reporting.
Television anchor Munizae Jahangir said that journalistic freedom had been violated largely in days of “superpower-backed dictatorships” in Pakistan. She said that the freedom of press was related to the concept of social freedom in any society.
“Recent times have been very difficult for journalists,” she said, adding, “but we (journalists) should remember that we are not alone in facing these challenges.”
Public Affairs Officer Brinille Ellis said that work done by journalists was of critical importance for any society for holding people accountable. “Freedom of press is not just a slogan specific to journalists. It is for an entire nation,” she said. She said without journalists, democracies were at great peril.
Later, the movie Good Night and Good Luck was screened. It depicts the events revolving around journalist Edward Murrow’s public stand against US Senator Joseph McCarthy’s anti-communism campaign.
Speaking with The Express Tribune, Leslie Goodman, the US Consulate General Lahore’s information office, said that the movie showed how a journalist could have an impact on a whole society.
SamaaTV reporter Tausiif Sabih talked about the risks involved in the profession. Ameen Hafeez of GEO News was of the view that the spirit of World Press Freedom Day should be kept alive beyond May 3.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 5th, 2012.