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