Media organisations around the world yesterday celebrated World Press Freedom Day as they have since it was inaugurated by the UN in 1991. It was celebrated here also, though there is precious little to be glad about.
Unesco has released a report titled ‘Safety and the danger of impunity’ and it ranks Pakistan as the second-most dangerous country in the world for journalists after Mexico. The report details the alarming increase in the numbers of journalists and media staffers killed in Pakistan with 2011 being the most deadly year yet. Sixteen died in 2010-11 as against the two and six recorded in the previous two years respectively. Forty-two journalists have died since 1992. The president issued a statement expressing his commitment to media freedoms and extolling the virtues of the PPP in upholding media freedoms both in and out of office, but the facts fly in the face of his oleaginous words.
The president was right to acknowledge that the liberalisation of the media owed much to the sacrifices of the journalists themselves, but he glossed over the many occasions in the current dispensation when the media has been threatened and bullied. Those in high office pay lip service to the media but what they desire is a media tuned to a level of sycophancy that massages their comfort zone.
Yet if the government is to avoid yet more international disapprobation it has to at least appear to be upholding media freedoms, gritting its teeth as it does. Thus there is a presidential commitment to ‘providing genuine access to information for the sake of transparency and accountability’ and talk of a new act of parliament to be brought into ensure those very freedoms after the usual promise to ‘consult with all stakeholders.’ Whilst it would be churlish to reject the opportunity to institutionalise freedom of information and accountability one might exercise a healthy degree of scepticism, given that the political climate of the country in general is the antithesis of open or accountable or transparent.
Originally published in The News.