Albert Camus’ dictum, “Always go too far, because that’s where you’ll find the truth,” is a torchbearer for journalists finding a way to search, strive and canvass the truth. There’s been an evolution to revolutionize Pakistani media, but nothing substantial is being done to ameliorate the deplorable state of journalists, as many of them are still struggling for their survival. The entire world celebrated ‘World Press Freedom Day’ and we Pakistanis are stuck in the quagmire of journalistic freedom and protection where either journalists are unable to earn suitable living or are being killed or kidnapped in the wake of speaking truth. There’s an utter need to develop an appropriate working and living environment for journalists as they’re the catalysts for providing a voice to the many subdued individuals.

According to Reporters without Borders (RWB), Pakistan currently ranks 139 out of 180 in the world press freedom index. "There are fatal attacks on journalists every year, though the number has dropped for the past four years," says the watchdog in its report.

The past 15 years have witnessed the killings of at least 117 journalists. And reporting of just three out of these 117 killings in the judicial courts gives an insight to the culture of impunity present in our country. Pakistan, which has long suffered the menace of terrorism and extremism, should understand that freedom of speech is the true essence of democracy. Safeguarding journalists is a necessary step to guarantee free speech, as freedom of speech is a tool that ensures sustainable growth and adheres to the true spirit of democracy.

Marriyum Aurangzeb, the information minister, in a recent statement talked about preparing a bill for the protection and welfare of journalists in the country. Although it is the right step towards ensuring strengthened democracy, but a bill to protect journalists will be of no use as long as law and order situation is not ensured. Following measures, if implemented holistically, could help make Pakistan a safe place for journalists.

1) The safety of journalists, media workers, and human rights defenders should to be ensured on priority basis as nothing is more important than protecting a human life. The constitutional and legal framework should be strong enough to cater to the factors posing threats to journalists’ salvation as there are several state and non-state actors threatening and pressurizing media houses and personnel. Moreover, a conducive working atmosphere for female journalists, being sidelined in our patriarchal society, would add icing to the cake as the incidents of their harassment are often reported.

2) The right and left-wing bias is also a menace present in the Pakistani media, keeping journalists away from rational and independent thinking. Moreover, this bias has forced many journalists to abandon their profession. This repression is not a new phenomenon and is rooted in Pakistani media long since independence, making Ziaul Haq’s reign the worst period for press freedom in Pakistan’s history. Free thinking is a tool that demarcates free journalism from the so-called ‘lifafa journalism’. So, the state should not coerce its rules and regulations on media houses in order to promote its own business.

3) Poor working conditions mainly low pay scales and job insecurity are the factors making journalists vulnerable in Pakistan. Except for a few big names, renowned in the media circle, the staff working on lower ranks is subjected to meager salaries notwithstanding the tasks they’re ought to perform. An average journalist or media person works for approximately 12 hours a day, but the salary he/she gets is either too meager to meet his/her ends or is not entitled on the regular basis. It is usually the reason ferilising the seed of corruption, leading to failure in being able to produce capacity building journalists. Permanent jobs, optimal salary package and entitlement of salaries on the regular basis are the steps that will help increase capacity building along with maximizing relative competition.

There is a long history of kidnapping and lynching of journalists, lawyers and human rights activists. First two months of 2017 have witnessed mass incidents of abductions, raising a question on the state’s performance to protect its citizens. Media persons and houses are not only on the target of non-state actors, but are also prone to the pitfalls of left and right-wing media bias accompanied with poor working conditions and institutional corruption. In this age of globalization, free media is the only factor that ensures a healthy democracy and this end could be met with utmost protection and freedom of journalists. It’s good on part of the government to introduce bills and laws to protect journalists, but these small bandages are not enough to mend the wounds. Law and order needs to be restored.