A pressing case for freedom

Media faces severe fire in many countries. Protecting those who question power is vital

Written by Hamid Mir | Published:November 2, 2016 12:15 am
freedom of press, press freedom, journalistic freedom, freedom of speech, Committee to Protect Journalists, UNESCO, Pakistan Media, India media, india news, indian express, indian express opinions The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), reporting on impunity over the killing of journalists, is putting specific emphasis on Mexico, Yemen, Pakistan and India. (Illustration: C R Sasikumar)

Do you know that only 13 per cent of the world’s population enjoys a free press? According to a Freedom House report on press freedom in 2016, the safety of journalists is guaranteed in just 13 per cent of the world’s population. About 41 per cent of the world’s population has a partly free press and 46 percent live in a not-free media environment.

Impunity is becoming the biggest threat to media freedom. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) recently claimed that Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh and India are among the 13 most dangerous countries for journalists. Other dangerous countries are Somalia, Iraq, Syria, the Philippines, South Sudan, Mexico, Brazil, Russia and Nigeria. The CPJ’s 2016 Global Impunity Index spotlights countries where journalists are slain — and their killers go free. November 2 is the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists. This year, UNESCO and many media organisations, including CPJ, International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), Free Press Unlimited and Reporters sans Frontieres (RSF), are organising special events to raise a collective voice against such impunity.

Growing extremism and intolerance in some democratic regimes are creating threats for media freedom in South Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America. In some countries, security agencies are trying to silence the voice of journalists, in the name of national interest. A recent case is Turkey, where a democratic regime is silencing the voice of the media in the name of “protecting democracy”. Unfortunately, the media is losing its freedom very fast in many Muslim countries but Europe is no more an exception. The massive influx of migrants to Europe indirectly resulted in a variety of limitations on media freedom. One example is Hungary where police attacked many journalists who were reporting on violent clashes between riot officers and migrants arriving at the country’s southern border. A series of attacks on journalists were reported in Germany by far-right groups who were opposing Chancellor Angela Merkel’s welcoming policies towards refugees.

I live in South Asia. That’s why I am more concerned about growing threats to media freedom in my part of the world. There is democracy in Pakistan, Bangladesh and India — but why have these three South Asian countries become dangerous for media? Extremism is not the only reason. Reporting against criminals and corrupt mafias is also becoming difficult. Sometimes, people sitting in the corridors of power don’t like voices of dissent. They try to silence journalists by declaring them anti-national. I believe that the freedom of expression plays a very crucial role in good governance, transparency and accountability. South Asian economies cannot achieve the goals of sustainable development without good governance — and that is not possible if media cannot raise fair questions.

Many journalists and bloggers have lost their lives in Pakistan, Bangladesh and India, but their killers have not been arrested. More than 100 journalists and media workers have lost their lives in Pakistan since 2005; almost one journalist killed every month, but only two cases have been resolved so far. One Pakistani journalist, Hafiz Husnain Raza, from Okara, Punjab, was arrested in April 2016 on terrorism charges because he wrote about peasants fighting for their lands occupied by security agencies.

The Pakistani media is losing its freedom very fast. It’s unfortunate that the Pakistani government sacked its information minister, Senator Pervaiz Rasheed, just because he failed to censor the story published in the Dawn newspaper about alleged differences between civilian and military leaders. The writer of the story, Cyril Almeida, left the country because many politicians demanded initiating a treason case against him.

India is the largest democracy in the world with a strong judiciary and a vibrant media. Yet, 95 journalists have been murdered in India since 1990 and very few cases were resolved. For example, one Indian journalist, Jagendra Singh, was set on fire allegedly by some Uttar Pradesh policemen in 2015, because he wrote on social media about the alleged corruption of a local minister. No one has been prosecuted. A few weeks ago, the daily Kashmir Reader from Srinagar was shut down by Indian authorities because this paper refused to take dictation from security forces. Many liberal and secular Bangladeshi journalists are facing criminal and treason cases just because they are posing valid questions and powerful people in their government cannot answer these.

According to the International Federation of Journalists 2016 report on impunity, only one out of 10 deaths in the media is investigated. IFJ’s #endimpunity 2016 campaign aims at holding all governments accountable for their impunity, but IFJ is putting a specific emphasis on four countries — Mexico, Pakistan, India and Yemen. Pakistan and India are going through very tense relations these days but they are united in one approach — the security establishment and political elite in both countries don’t like free media. They always try to use tamed media against each other.

If they change their approach and give freedom to their media, then journalists on both sides may play a positive role in minimising tensions. Only a fear-free media can bring durable peace in this world. The first step for making a fear-free media is to end impunity. Let’s raise our voice together against impunity.

The writer works for GeoTelevision, Pakistan

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  1. I
    IslamForFoools
    Nov 2, 2016 at 2:36 pm
    What about your fking Islam killing millions everyday, I can't even make list, because that big list your Islam did murder
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      Prashanta Nayak
      Nov 2, 2016 at 7:32 am
      A must read for all.
      Reply
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        Prashanta Nayak
        Nov 2, 2016 at 7:31 am
        An eye opener. After reading this post, I expect at least responsible and impartial journalist to get united and stand against those atrocities. It have to start from somewhere and someday. Let's make today as the beginning. #FreeMedia #FreeSpeech
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          Amit P
          Nov 2, 2016 at 6:27 pm
          I have been following Mr Mir’s Capital Talk show for a while now and love his calm, incisive conversational style of questioning his guests who try to evade his questions. I was shocked and horrified on the ination attempt on his life a couple of years back. lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;I do not agree at all with his views on Kashmir but otherwise India would be lucky to have a quality journalist like him. Lastly, hearty congratulations on winning the well deserved journalist of the year award at The Hague. lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;Now, coming to the article, I have two points to make:lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;1. At a fundamental level, the value of everyone’s life in general is cheap in South Asia and not just that of journalists. So this threat applies to anyone who dares step on the tail of the powerful elite, be it in the government or from other sectors. As a South Asian, I wish we could improve matters here. The benefit would automatically flow to journalists as well. lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;2. To say that stan is a democracy comparable to India is wrong at so many levels. The two were probably was comparable in the 60’s and 70’s but now the gap is huge and very obvious to the world at large. lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;The biggest difference is that even a democratically elected government in stan always functions under the shadow of the army and ISI.lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;The second biggest difference is that democratic systems and grey areas in stani law are abused with shocking impunity at the drop of a hat with nary a question raised either by the media or the public. Most recent example of this is the way Cyril Almeida was put on the ECL and the way their information minister was sacked as a follow up action. There are countless other examples too in the recent history of the country. lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;If stan is able to fight these two very major setbacks in its systems it would be a great step towards furthering the cause of democracy and progress in the country.
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            Aamiynah Zubair
            Nov 2, 2016 at 9:56 am
            Excellent piece with alarming statistics
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              Amar Akbar
              Nov 2, 2016 at 5:20 am
              4 Sunni Muslim Groups Responsible for 66% of All 17,958 Terror Killings in 2013, 80% in 2014 and 95% of all terror kiIIings in 2015. This is the religion of peace.
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                Sriniwasan
                Nov 2, 2016 at 3:53 pm
                I agree with Hamid Mir that stan is a FAILED State and Journalists are killed by its own Armed Forcedia has a free and vibrant media. Kashmir Reporter was forced to suspend its publication because there is a proven evidence of trying to incite violence.lt;br/gt;Hamid Mir is well aware, that none of the Journalists in Kashmir has been kidnapped or killed,On the contarary it is the other way around.It is the stan abetted terrorists who kill the Secular,nationalistic minded journalists in JandK .lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;If Hamid Mir has not equated India with stan with the statistics of Journalistic killings,Hamid would face the same fate similar to that of Daniel Pearl in his beloved Country
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                  Sriniwasan
                  Nov 2, 2016 at 4:04 pm
                  , all the Killers have been caught and facing trial
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                    Murthy
                    Nov 2, 2016 at 6:53 am
                    Do Indian readers believe that 95 Indian journos have been murdered in India? I have to remind myself that stanis tend to bracket India with their country in all things negative. Could Mr. Mir publish this essay in stan?
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                      Murthy
                      Nov 2, 2016 at 6:37 am
                      My problem is really my own freedom of expression. The Hindu does not publish any of my posts. Ind. Express blocks about 30-40 % of my posts. This author should discuss that too. Here two of my posts have already been blocked by I.E. Hence this post.
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                        OmKar
                        Nov 2, 2016 at 1:39 am
                        Did you ever questioned why a Ahmadiya, Christian, Hindu, Shia can not be be President, PM or Army Chief of stan. And why you start the news with Bismillah Rahman - e- Rahim. showing you religious and ideny bias. Please think.
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                          Anonymous
                          Nov 2, 2016 at 2:28 am
                          If India had no freedom, you woudn't have written this article.
                          Reply
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                            Shatrughan
                            Nov 2, 2016 at 5:46 am
                            I agree with Mr Mir here... but media not only has to be "fear-free", it must also be fair. One of the reason why ordinary people do not care about journalists (living, or killed) is because they see journalists as hobnobbing with politicians and/or other powerful people behind the scenes... sometimes acting like power brokers and favoring one personality/party over another... people in general have become skeptical about the media which is losing its credibility. Journalists will be safer if people believe that they are working in the interest of the people/country. A credible media is the best way to ensure a fear-free media.
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                              David
                              Nov 2, 2016 at 12:32 am
                              Don't equate India with stan and the likes of Somalia. stan is a Islamic theocracy where Islam is the state religion with pretensions of democracy where children are thought to hate Hindus in their text books. He left out Saudi Arabia and China.
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                                David
                                Nov 2, 2016 at 6:20 pm
                                India has it's own GPS. India placed a probe to Mars. India has scramjet technology. The point. Don't equate India with stan. A few journalist killed in India are not by government agencies, they were involved in criminal activities in the name of journalism. stanis get out of the mind set of equating with India.
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                                  David
                                  Nov 2, 2016 at 6:37 pm
                                  India has it\'s own GPS. India placed a probe to Mars. India has scramjet technology. The point. Don\'t equate India with stan. A few journalist killed in India are not by government agencies, they were involved in criminal activities in the name of journalism. stanis get out of the mind set of equating with India.
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                                    rajdeep
                                    Nov 2, 2016 at 5:32 am
                                    Author is trying to equate stan with India on matter of journalistic freedom. Entire world knows this is not true and while journalists in stan gets bullets or are just mouthpieces of ISI, Journalists in India enjoy near total freedom. Politicians may threaten some journalists from time to time, but system ensures media is free.
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                                      saksham
                                      Nov 2, 2016 at 4:58 am
                                      But consution doenst prohibit a muslim becoming COAS or PM in India. Many Lt. Gen have been muslims S AtaHasnain being one. Don't bend over backwards for the sake of countering. There is difference and accept it.
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                                        shashank
                                        Nov 2, 2016 at 11:19 am
                                        Basic flaw in entire article is that it is equating India with other failed nations. Indis is a big big country, a mive country with tons of diversity. Such small and unipolar countries are no match to India at all in any respects, specially the issue of tolerance. It is like comparing diamond with coal.Considering this point the magnitude of incidents related to freedom of press are negligible.
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                                          subraman
                                          Nov 2, 2016 at 6:50 am
                                          Is the writer from stan right. Do you mean to say no action taken In any of the cases? Be honest
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                                            subraman
                                            Nov 2, 2016 at 6:48 am
                                            The Author is a stani. He places so much emphasis on killings in India. HE calls stan a democracy. And IE publishes his trash. IE is bent on tarnishing India's good name.
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