Press freedom in Pakistan

Journalists in Islamabad protest in 2009.

Journalists in Islamabad protest in 2009.

I contributed a short segment to Monocle 24’s special package on World Press Freedom Day. The podcast is available here. I’m on from about 19 minutes in. Here’s the text of what I said:

It’s sometimes a surprise to outsiders quite how free and vibrant the media in Pakistan actually is.

The outgoing government has many faults, but it’s done a lot to further freedom of expression. Newspapers have played a significant role in uncovering corruption and acting as a check on power over the last decade.

Reporters critical of the government face less official interference today than they did before the return to civilian rule in 2008, but it’s not an entirely positive picture.

Last year, a United Nations report ranked Pakistan as the second most dangerous country in the world for journalists. Since 2000, more than 90 journalists have been killed– mostly Pakistanis.

Last year, I did some work with the national newspaper Dawn, and entering their offices in Karachi involved multiple metal detectors, bomb detectors, and bag searches, because the Taliban had directly threatened media groups over negative coverage.

This high risk of death leads to a degree of self-censorship. This year’s Human Rights Watch report said that “a climate of fear impeded media coverage of the state security forces and militant groups”. So while government corruption is freely reported on, the powerful military establishment remains largely untouched. Journalists know which areas they can push and which they can’t.

Foreign reporters are safer – and therefore freer – than local journalists, partly because we can afford to take more security measures. But most still proceed with a degree of caution on certain topics, like the ISI. However, we can be safe in the knowledge that the worst that’s likely to happen to us is a swift exit from the country, while local journalists have nowhere to escape to.

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