KARACHI-Pakistan People’s Party Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said on Friday that the media is facing an undeclared censorship and the country has become unsafe for the journalist community.

The PPP chairman was addressing a ceremony held to mark World Press Freedom Day at Karachi Press Club. PML-N leader Mushahid Ullah Khan, IA Rehman, members of Karachi Union of Journalists and others also spoke on the occasion.

While terming KPC second home to the PPP, Bilawal said that it has given a platform to the political parties even in difficult phases.

Underscoring importance of freedom of expression, Bilawal termed it mother of all human rights and said that after the right to life, right to expression and freedom of association is of key importance as all other rights cannot even be articulated without it.

He said that under Article 19, every citizen has a right to freedom of speech but there is censorship on media to weaken democratic system.

Violation of basic human rights is on the rise and the journalists are being threatened, killed in the line of duty, he said, adding that along with state actors, non-state actors are also involved in threatening the community.

Giving details of lack of action in pending cases of journalists’ killings, the PPP chairman said that only one conviction has come in killings of 26 journalists during 2013 and 2018. “Even this conviction was overturned,” he regretted.

He called for legislating on the issue of safety of journalists and said that it should be implemented. “We have always raised our voice for upholding human rights and against its violations,” he claimed and added that a parliamentary committee should be formed to ensure freedom of speech.

He said that the freedom of speech is not only the right of a journalist but a community on a whole.

He further warned that some forces are trying to bring the entire media under one ambit. “Journalism is now first pillar of the state as when all dissenting voices are barred, it is journalists whose struggle begins,” he said, adding journalists have always played their role against dictatorships in the country and the PPP will always play its role for freedom of speech in the country.

“The PPP rejects the move to set up a super regulatory body over all media in Pakistan as well as the manner in which the Prevention of Electronic Crime Act (PECA) 2016 has been misapplied to stifle dissent, constructive criticism and alternative narratives.”

While condemning the use of economic strangulation as a new tool to curb the freedom of expression, Bilawal said advertisements are being manipulated by the government functionaries to force media to tow a line of their choice. This was also referred in the Faizabad sit-in case and we could not move forward unless we implement the apex court ruling [penned by Justice Faiz Essa] on it completely,” he pointed out.

He also criticized the move to ban news outlets in parts of the country.

PML-N leader and Senator Mushahid Ullah Khan said that forces suppressing the journalist community and political opponents should remember that they would become a part of history but these journalists had faced situations worst then today.

Speaking truth is not an issue but face its repercussions and refuse to bow down is a challenge that the journalists community has performed well in past, he said adding that no state could be run without effective media.

Human Rights activists and Director HRCP IA Rehman said that media is passing through its worst phase but all forces believing on democracy and human rights should join together for the rights guaranteed under the constitution.