For the second year in a row, Pakistan proved to be the deadliest country for journalists, claiming 11 lives in 2011 alone. The Committee to Protect Journalists reported that seven of the 11 deaths were targeted attacks directly related to the profession. Al Jazeera points out that “in each of Iraq and Libya (both active war zones during the past year), five journalists were killed in 2011, while in Afghanistan (another active war zone) and largely lawless Somalia, the death toll was two in each.”
The numbers are disconcerting, especially since the media in Pakistan is suppose to be totally free. Free, yes, but certainly not protected from credible threats. The number of media outlets in Pakistan have significantly increased over the past several years, but the lines of censorship have become ambiguously gray. More and more, journalists in Pakistan are scaling back on reporting on controversial issues simply because they are afraid to.
In the article, Mohammad Malick, the Islamabad editor for The News, told Al Jazeera that “There was a time when the red line used to be anything to do with the army. Even if you [talked] about national security, it was taken to be akin to questioning the army’s patriotism. [But] I think now instead of removing the red lines, everybody has added their own. If you write about the MQM’s [a Sindh-based political party] alleged criminal activities, you’re accused of being ethnically motivated. If you write about any other [similar] topic, again you are either accused of being parochial, you’re accused of fanning provincialism. So everybody is hiding behind some ethnic blanket, some cultural barrier.”
With fear as a constant, the media in Pakistan is facing a tipping point: report on what influential political and religious groups condone, or report the whole truth. And when one’s own life and family are at stake, the choice becomes clear. It’s easy to perceive journalists as fearless superheros who search out the facts in the face of danger and beyond, but the reality is that they are human beings who have lives and loved ones outside of their work.
The article also points out that a “right-wing conservative mindset has seeped into Pakistan in the last 30 years,” with media laws only being liberalized over the past decade. So once again the human element plays a large role in shaping information based on personal perspectives and political opinions. And because these ideologies are so ingrained in much of the public (journalists included), there is a lack of awareness and little that is challenged.
Over the past few years, we’ve seen oppressed nations revolutionize their governments, but it was not without the loss of life that this was accomplished. In a country such as Pakistan, where a “free” press cannot report information without facing threats unless it satisfies “political parties, religious groups, gun runners, drug dealers and secessionist movements” there is a atrocious flaw in the system. Perhaps, the journalists who lost their lives knew that only when risks are taken and societies collectively fight against the system that freedom is truly won.
Photo: X Index