The media in broad terms became less free in Pakistan through the course of 2014 — which, perhaps, is little surprise as the state encroaches upon the media and suppresses it in a variety of ways. The annual evaluation of the group Reporters Without Borders (RWB) ranks Pakistan at 159 out of 180 countries where freedom of the media suffered “a drastic decline” in 2014. It is not only the state that limits media freedoms, the activities of extremist groups like Boko Haram and the Islamic State (IS) target individual news organisations, reporters and bloggers all over the world; intimidating or killing them if they express views other than those espoused by the extremists. In the Middle East and Ukraine, there is what is described as “a fearsome information war” being waged by all sides in the conflicts there. Criminal organisations in Italy and Latin America also seek to curb the investigations of the media, and target journalists who refuse to act as their mouthpiece. In Africa, there are entire regions that are described as “a black hole” controlled by non-state actors and from which information that can be independently verified does not exist.
The media in Pakistan also practise self-censorship across all the platforms, largely out of fear of reprisals against their employees, media group owners or broadcasting stations. Political parties limit media freedoms and it is unwise to dig too deeply into the affairs of some political parties and their luminaries. Beyond the YouTube ban, the Pakistan government limits freedom on the internet when it so chooses, and has been known to micromanage down to the point of blocking individual Facebook posts — which says a lot for the levels of surveillance in play. Perhaps, the best that can be said for Pakistan is that it is not actually at the bottom of the list, but that is small comfort. Freedom in the Pakistani media is hard won, and there is much still to fight for.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 18th, 2015.