Pakistani press is free -- but only in theory
Journalists must censor themselves while media panders to narrow segments.
Tragically, Pakistan retains a dubious distinction in the journalistic community. For the second year in a row, Pakistan is the most dangerous place for a reporter to work according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). The CPJ says that seven journalists were killed in Pakistan as a direct result of their profession in 2011.
A Pakistani woman protests the killings of journalists. The country cannot be truly free while its people are afraid to report the truth.
In Iraq and Libya, active war zones during the past year, five journalists were killed. In Afghanistan, and Somalia, two very dangerous and troubled countries, the death toll was two apiece. This puts the 11 fatalities in Pakistan into glaring perspective.
It is ironic that while the press in Pakistan is now more free than ever, it is one of the most censored establishments in the world. Under previous governments, the Pakistani press was officially censored. Reporters could write whatever they wished with the understanding that censors would strike from their reports anything that was objectionable.
Today, those censors are no longer employed and journalists must now censor themselves. The self-censorship is ultimately far more harsh than the official censorship exercised by the government in previous years. The reason is simple. Journalists who offend the wrong group will be targeted for assassination.
Danger lurks everywhere for journalists. The list of taboo topics is constantly growing. Reporters who tackle corruption, organized crime, religious groups, separatist groups, or even factions within the government, risk their lives when doing so. The end result is that most reporters have stopped discussing these topics altogether.
So the media is technically free, but reporters must exercise tremendous amounts of self-restraint and censor their own work before publication. The result is less news and more propaganda.
While many publications seek not to offend anyone, others cater almost exclusively to specific factions within the country. It is now generally accepted that certain publications will provide strong ideological stances on various issues. Objectivity is no longer associated with journalism in Pakistan.
Ironically, the journalism field in Pakistan is booming with business. The country boasts no less than 21 24-hour news television stations. The networks are well patronized by Pakistan's various factions and the elites who align themselves with them. And so, to maintain high ratings, support, and to protect their self interests -- and lives, the stations pander to their pet factions often reducing the quality of their journalism to the point of propaganda.
Exacerbating the problem, few of the nation's 184 daily newspapers are circulated nationally. Most are printed and circulated locally.
As the mood in that country changes, so does the reporting.
The end result is that Pakistan is home to a multibillion-dollar news industry where journalists who objectively report the news take their lives into their own hands. Despite having a free press, Pakistan is tragically home to one of the most hostile and oppressive journalistic environments in the world.
Of course, the truth is that unless Pakistani journalists are free to report the facts, then the press, nor the people, will ever be truly free.
© 2012, Catholic Online. Distributed by NEWS CONSORTIUM.
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Pope Benedict XVI's Prayer Intentions for January 2013
General Intention: The Faith of Christians. That in this Year of Faith Christians may deepen their knowledge of the mystery of Christ and witness joyfully to the gift of faith in him.
Missionary Intention: Middle Eastern Christians. That the Christian communities of the Middle East, often discriminated against, may receive from the Holy Spirit the strength of fidelity and perseverance.
Keywords: Pakistan, journalism, freedom of the press, killings, assassination
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