Today is World Press Freedom Day. A few days ago, media rights watchdog Freedom Network (FN) has released its Press Freedom Barometer 2018, stating that in less than a year more than 150 cases of attacks and violations against media and journalists. Pakistan is not a place one would wish to be in if one is a journalist. For quite some time, Pakistan is one of the most dangerous places for journalists to work in. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) ranking that places Pakistan on 139th position out of 180 countries corroborates this statement. Many journalists have lost their lives in the line of duty. Many more face coercion by the state and its security institutions. Journalists are either threatened or beaten if they insist on bringing a fair and objective news report or story before the public eyes.

Nevertheless, it is important to emphasise the fact that such practices go in violation of the Constitution of Pakistan. Making reporting impossible through coercive means is a violation of freedom of expression and an abuse of the right of information. Why is it the case that the state is so keen on not allowing information to the public? The fear of accountability is one reason. If news reaches public ear about government’s poor performance, the state fears a possible agitation. Another important reason is that state and its institution do not want to be questioned on human rights violations that they are involved in.

However, what the state fails to understand is that it is the absence of criticism that is the greatest threat to freedoms. An equally upsetting fact revealed by Freedom Network (FN) report holds the state and its institutions as the most serious threat actors targeting media. 39% of the total attacks on media were reported to have state’s involvement. A dystopian picture emerges considering the number of assaults in last eleven months, 157 in total. It appears as if the information itself is the real enemy, along with transparency, exposure, critical thinking –anything and everything that might be seen as characteristic of a free, open society.

A critical, independent and investigative media is the lifeblood of any democracy. The state should not interfere in the functioning of media and press at all if it calls itself a democratic one. While on paper the media and press enjoy protections of the constitution, however, in reality, such protections are rarely extended to media and journalists. In the midst of such intimidating environment for information propagation and reporting, our rights as citizens are also under threat.