Given the ever-increasing threat to the safety of journalists across the world, the UN observes Nov 3 as International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists to sensitise governments and people to the need for protecting lives of journalist to enable them to provide information to public, a sine qua non for functioning democracies. According to Unesco, over 1,000 journalists have been killed in the past decade in the world. In Pakistan, 138 journalists have been killed since 1990 mainly for unearthing corruption. Formerly, journalists were mostly killed in conflict zones but in recent years they are increasingly being killed for uncovering corruption, suppression of facts relating to climate change and environment and many other kinds of wrongdoing by wielders of power. Besides, they are subjected to death threats, intimidation, harassment and other pressure tactics to frighten them into giving up investigative reporting. There are lots of subtle ways to force journalists into submission. Journalists are killed by powerful individuals with impunity. The UN says nine out of such murders go unpunished.
Several governments have put in place draconian laws to ‘keep a tight leash’ on journalists working in the cyberspace and digital sphere. Many such journalists and activists have faced harassment, kidnapping and court cases for daring the authorities, though most cases have failed the scrutiny of law, but only after the victims have undergone much agony and anxiety. The prevailing atmosphere of fear and misery has shrunk the space for journalists’ attempt to arrive at the truth in order to strengthen an informed citizenry. The trend of silencing journalists is threatening the very existence of democracy. Journalists working in the digital world face trolls, death threats for themselves and their family members. Here the plight of female journalists who are courageous is worse: they face both death as well as rape threats, and their social image is harmed through sustained online campaign. This stifling atmosphere does not augur well for the fourth estate of democracy.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 6th, 2021.
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