There is an old maxim that the first casualty of war is the truth. Journalists around the world continue to be targeted for doing their duty of providing information to the public. A report by the Community to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a watchdog on the prosecution faced by journalists around the world, says that some 250 journalists were imprisoned worldwide in 2019. The biggest offenders are some of the usual authoritarian regimes. Most of the journalists imprisoned were charged with either anti-state activity while around 30 were charged with spreading “fake news”. Countries like Russia and Singapore enacted laws criminalising ‘fake news’.
It is also curious that most of the journalists who have been imprisoned used to report on subjects such as politics, human rights and corruption. This theme betrays the true intention of the offending regimes, that they, more than anything else, are intolerant of their criticism, of the world learning of their dirty linen. The internet, the last bastion of free expression, has been particularly targeted as well with half of all journalists imprisoned the world over working for online publications. Further, many countries are imposing curbs on social media in various forms. In Pakistan as well, working as a journalist is no kid’s stuff. Media-persons here continue to be targeted and killed for their work here.
CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon explained that the impact of imprisoning hundreds of journalists — year after year — primarily poses a “threat to the global information system on which we all depend”. By using these cruel tactics, repressive regimes only end up depriving their societies and the entire world of essential information which will allow the people to make informed decisions. And this is why controlling information is so critical for repressive regimes — because it is the key to controlling the population and safeguarding their hegemony.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 15th, 2019.