That a detailed Amnesty International report on threats to media in Pakistan is all doom and gloom about the safety of journalists is hardly a surprise to anyone who may have been following recent developments. The report reveals that 34 journalists may have been killed since democracy was restored in March 2008 and authorities have failed to stop human rights abuses against journalists, who also continue to face threats, harassment and torture as well as abductions.
In the past few days, public debates have attempted to grapple with key questions of media responsibility and the dangers of implicating national security institutions when the country is in a state of war. While there has been much discussion, the key question of journalists’ safety has not been addressed. Regardless of whoever was involved, a television anchor was attacked in broad daylight. Earlier, the Express Group has suffered nearly half a dozen brutal attacks in which many of its staffers were killed or injured. The federal government has not moved beyond the usual lip service. In the case of attack on Raza Rumi, the Punjab Police have nabbed a gang in Lahore but it is unclear whether effective prosecution lies ahead. In many cases of this nature, the accused eventually get freed by the courts due to insufficient evidence. Even if there is substantial evidence, in some cases the judges are too scared to give verdicts due to the threats they face. Given this alarming situation, the citizens at large and journalists in particular have lost trust in the ability of the state to maintain security and ensure justice.
Had the debate been steered in this direction, we may have moved towards a consensus of sorts. The opportunity has been squandered temporarily. But there is no reason why this debate must not continue. It is time for the journalists’ associations to devise a unified list of demands and ask the government to deliver on its promises. It is high time the government demonstrated its will and assured people that it values media freedoms and will do all it can to minimise risks faced by media workers.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 1st, 2014.