Whither freedom? – The News International

Reporters without Borders (RSF) publishes the World Press Freedom Index annually. Thanks to its reputation as a transparent body, governments around the world take it seriously. The index has become a point of reference quoted by international media and organizations throughout the world. The latest index shows some alarming decline in ranking for Pakistan which has lost three ranks, and is placed at 145 among the 180 countries and territories surveyed. It is no consolation for us that South Asia generally performed poor on the index as Bangladesh dropped one place to be perched at 151, and India lost two point to be ranked 142nd. Essentially, this index measures the level of freedom available to journalists in countries and regions by giving a snapshot of the media freedom situation. This freedom is evaluated with the indicators concerning the independence of the media, pluralism, and quality of legislative framework and safety of journalists.

We are more concerned about Pakistan as we have seen a renewed onslaught on media and journalism, both electronic and print. The independence of journalists or the media is ensured by at least two major factors: one, the government and state institutions remain dispassionate, impartial, and transparent; and two, no victimization takes place under various guises to curtail the freedom of expression. In the first case, the government in power must enact and enforce legislations and policies that guarantee the safety and security of journalists, media professionals and owners. In the second, the governments must prevent any discriminatory or preferential treatment with selected media houses. That means a fair and equitable distribution of advertisements, complete abidance of laws while dealing with media persons and owners, and finally making sure that no government entity violates its own principles to victimize any media house whimsically.

Unfortunately, we have not displayed any enviable performance on any of the points mentioned above. The arrest and continued detention of Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman by NAB is a case in point that is further tarnishing the image of Pakistan internationally. When any countrys ranking slides down on the freedom index, it reduces its dignity and respect within the international community. If Bangladesh, India, Pakistan or even the USA drop their rank on the index it raises serious question about the way journalists are being treated in that country by both state and non-state actors. In Pakistan a draft law for the safety of journalists was diligently prepared by the Ministry of Human Rights led by Shireen Mazari, in consultation with most stakeholders, but when it reached the cabinet level, it was stuck there for mysterious reasons. There is an urgent need for the government of Pakistan to take this slide in ranking seriously and to not only pass the legislation but also restrain anyone from targeting the media; that would include the government too

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Whither freedom? - The News International

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