Pakistan, which claims to be a Parliamentary republic, is seeing a spike in attacks on the media which has highlighted the looming threat to fundamental freedoms in the country.
According to the World Press Freedom Index 2022 report, Pakistan has slipped by 12 points in the index, from a rank of 145th in 2021 to 157th in 2022.
The main purpose of the media is to give voice to the voiceless. Instead, communication outlets in the Islamic Republic have forcibly been transformed into the state apparatus that is being used to reshape the ideologies of the masses.
Bilal Baloch, a Pakistani Journalist based in France said that scribes in Pakistan were constantly living under a shadow of threat.
“If we see the freedom of press index which was published from very recognized organization reporters without borders Pakistan’s level is very low,” said Bilal.
The oppressive approach against the media in Pakistan, which started under the dictatorship of army general Zia-ul-Haq during the 1980s continues today.
Journalists critical of the military are often attacked, threatened, or arrested and there is a long list of cases of intimidation of news reporters by army-related agencies.
According to Freedom network, an award-winning Pakistan-based media rights watchdog, at least 86 cases of attacks and violations against press and journalists took place between May 2021 and April 2022.
Unfortunately, successive Pakistani governments which are civilian facades used to conceal the iron fist of the army, are involved in crushing dissent and criminalizing dissimilar opinions.
Even Opposition parties who demand press freedom are the first to restrict it when in power.
Just last year, noted Pakistani Journalist Hamid Mir was taken off air for remarks he made against the military. He was later forced to apologize.
Hamid, while protesting against an attack on another independent journalist, had threatened to expose the Army’s involvement in such attacks.
Many Media professionals who have been forced by the Pakistani Army and intelligence agencies to leave the country are living under threats even on foreign soil.
Several Pakistani journalists like Taha Siddiqui are living in exile but still don’t feel safe and they have a reason to worry.
Exiled Pakistani Journalist, Taha Siddiqui said “Journalists in Pakistan are under threat. They are living under the threat of being kidnapped, they are living under the threat of being attacked, losing their jobs, financial sort of blackmailing that happens.”
Apart from the powerful forces, there are many other authorities and areas in the south Asian country which are out of the ambit of scrutiny.
For instance, Pakistani media in conflict zones are non-existent.
Hotspots like Balochistan, Pakistan occupied Kashmir and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have become no-go areas for journalists, with information from these regions reduced to a trickle.
Pakistan was never an easy place for journalists to work, but now the very existence of the media is in threat.