Press freedom in Pakistan have deteriorated in recent years as the media has faced constant attacks, threats, and intimidation while performing its journalistic duties. Yet, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry make the assertion that Pakistan was “probably one of the freest states as far as media is concerned”.
In Pakistan, freedom of speech and expression comes with strings attached an often at a price. They are certain ‘red lines’ that journalists cannot cross and those who transgress have faced the consequences. The case of journalist Asad Toor, who was assaulted by unidentified men, is one such example in in the latest incident of violence targeting press freedom.
Pakistan ranks 145 out of 180 countries on 2021 World Press Freedom Index by media rights watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF). Since 1992, at least 61 journalists have been killed in targeted attacks in Pakistan, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). Many journalists claimed there has been a marked increase in threats, intimidation and outright censorship targeting the media during the current Imran Khan-led government as they are barred from even covering certain topics.
The prime minister has asserted that there is no media crackdown in Pakistan, rather he and his government are far more unprotected than the media. His maverick information minister went on to claim that the journalists criticize state institutions to get political asylum, saying it has become a trend for Western media to blame such incident on our intelligence agencies. The minister claimed that such incidents can happen anywhere and Pakistan is no exception.
The media faces several challenges which have become far more subtle during the current government. Arbitrary arrests, detention and lengthy criminal baseless criminal prosecution continue to be used as weapons of press censorship. Media channels have been threatened with withdrawal of advertisements of their circulation interrupted. These have been many cases of brazen censorship to exert pressure and signals of TV channels have been impacted. Attempts have also been made to purge the internet and social media of content not adhering to the norms.
The media in Pakistan can certainly not be regarded as free. The minister’s statement of media freedom will be mocked and will affect those who are striving to report the truth. An independent media is part of a democratic society and the government should ensure the constitutional right of all citizens.