PTI government throttle the media more than any civilian government in the history of Pakistan

 Pakistan fell 18 places on World Press Freedom Index during PTI rule and stands at 157 out of 180  

It is not surprising at all that Pakistan has dropped 12 places on the World Press Freedom index 2022 released by RSF. According to the RSF report, Pakistan has fallen by 12 places to 157 out of 180 countries. Last year, Pakistan was ranked 145. The drop in the Press Freedom Index is the direct result of the policies adopted by the ousted PTI government. The PTI government tried to throttle the mainstream media more than any other civilian government in the history of Pakistan.

The France-based media watchdog Reporters Sans Frontiers (RSF) released its report on the state of media in 2021 on the occasion of World Freedom Day. World Press Freedom Day is celebrated every year on May 03 to highlight the fundamental principles of press freedom and present the current state of journalism to the world.  This day is also celebrated to show solidarity and pay tribute to the journalists who were killed, injured, or affected while performing their duties.

 The situation was not ideal for the media when the PTI government came into power after the 2018 general elections. But the situation for media freedom further fell to new lows under PM Imran Khan’s government. Many prominent journalists were forced to go off air for nearly three years. Many prominent critical voices in the media lost their jobs. Unannounced censorship was imposed to control the media. 

 The media faced many difficulties during the PTI rule of 44 months. The PTI government introduced draconian laws like PECA Act 2021 to severely curtail the mainstream and social media. It was a serious attempt to fully control the media in Pakistan. The honorable Islamabad High Court struck down the PECA ordinance as being unconstitutional and against the spirit of democracy and the constitution.  

The PTI government also tried to impose the Pakistan Media Development Authority to replace the existing media regulatory bodies including PEMRA. The media bodies and journalist organisations oppose that legislation and defended the freedom of press and expression. The Pakistani media and independent journalists suffered a lot during the PTI rule in the country.  The journalists were not only made unemployed but also threatened, beaten, arrested, and harassed.  

The safety of journalists in Pakistan has been under threat for a long, but it has deteriorated to an unprecedented scale over the past few years. The PTI regime oversaw a project of repression against freedom almost unprecedented in its scale – harassment of journalists, pressure on media organizations, vilification of individual journalists, including women, abusive remarks about their work on social media, and other similar tactics going well beyond even what General Zia had inflicted on the media.

There was a dramatic escalation of coercion by the PTI government. The six categories of violations that the reports highlights include: legal cases, offline harassment, illegal detentions, assassinations and attempts to murder, and verbal threats; these constitute nearly two-thirds of the violations against journalists in Pakistan. Pakistani journalism’s history has been of brave journalists who have displayed independence and courage even in the face of threats and violence. But over the years, media houses have been forced into making the difficult choice between informing the public and keeping their journalists safe.
It was the suspected perpetrator in a whopping 41% of at least 86 attacks against the media and its practitioners that the RSF recorded between May 2021 and April 2022.

Another significant finding was that the nation’s capital, home to some of the most secure locations in Pakistan, proved to be “the riskiest and most dangerous place to practice journalism”. Sindh was the second-worst. Digital media journalists paid the highest price for their work, with two of them among four media persons that were killed in the period under review. 

One can hope that after the ouster of the PTI government and the formation of a new grand coalition government led by PM Shahbaz Sharif will change its policies and attitude towards journalists and media. It will try to make the life of the journalists easy and protect them. Democracy is a farce without independent and free media and freedom of expression. Free media is essential in a functional democracy.

                                                                         The Editor   

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