While the fearless reporting and investigations carried out by journalists ensure freedom of the press on the one hand, lawmakers, on the other hand, should provide that the state does not curtail this freedom through any means. This is the standard norm across the world. However, the latter lot, in Pakistan, consider protecting press freedom their least priority. How committed our legislators are to safeguard press freedom and people’s right to information can be seen by their absence from the Press Freedom Day event at the National Press Club. None of the politicians who confirmed to attend the event showed up. It is ironic that every political party has made tall claims in their manifestos of upholding freedom of expression, and claim a commitment to play a role for the freedom of information, yet they ignored the Day.
Quality journalism cannot be ensured without life and job security, yet repeated appeals from the journalists’ fraternity to the state fall on deaf ears. Statistics show that over 80 percent of journalists face a threat to their life or job. Overall, a hostile situation is deliberately created to bar journalists and reporters from disseminating information to the public. Both state and non-state actors ensure to work for achieving the common goal: curbing freedom of expression and suppressing information. We have only recently witnessed an ugly display of how the state wants to completely ignore one movement whose demands are in the ambit of the Constitution. The stakes are made so high that virtually no journalist or media house dare to cover the movement and its legitimate demands.
Moreover, the state’s commitment to freedom of expression can be gauged from the incident where police subjected journalists and participant to torture while they were marching towards Parliament. Out of more than 300 parliamentarians, only Aitzaz Ahsan criticising police or its inappropriate behaviour tells volumes about Parliament’s commitment to ensuring press freedom and protection to those who disseminate information. The attempt to bar the participants from marching towards Parliament perfectly encapsulates the abysmal condition of freedom of expression and journalistic safety in Pakistan.
Nelson Mandela, speaking at International Press Institute Congress, summed up the whole debate when he said, “A critical, independent and investigative press is the lifeblood of any democracy. The press must be free from state interference. It must have the economic strength to stand up to the blandishments of government officials. It must have sufficient independence from vested interests to be bold and inquiring without fear or favour. It must enjoy the protection of the constitution so that it can protect our rights as citizens.”