Pakistan’s Media Freedom Ranking Falls Further


Pakistan has one of the worst records when it comes to media freedom. According to the global watchdog, Reporters without borders (RSF), Pakistan stands at 145 in its 2020 global ranking of countries, down three slots from 2019. The RSF report notes that since 2018 when Prime Minister Imran Khan took over “There have been many cases of brazen censorship in which the military have used a number of methods for exercising pressure” and that “Journalists who dared to broach subjects deemed off limits by the military have been subjected to ISI-orchestrated harassment campaigns.”


Echoing these views, an editorial in Dawn refers to it as “open season on journalists.” According to Dawn, the problem becomes worse when “the government itself becomes party to smear campaigns against journalists, an important line is crossed. It means the state no longer believes in its duty to protect journalists and their right to freedom of speech.”


The latest example was on December 3, when social media “was abuzz over Stephen Sackur’s punishing interview of Ishaq Dar on Hard Talk.” This led the Prime Minister’s own party PTI’s Lahore wing to tweet what Dawn refers to as “execrable tweets.” The first a list of so-called mediapersons who were ‘building narratives for the corrupt’” and the second a list of so-called “brave and bold journalists fighting the war of truth and justice.”


While the tweets were later deleted after a massive uproar, as Dawn noted, the harm was done. “The tweets betray the ruling party’s attitude towards independent-minded journalists. These are the mediapersons who do not flinch from asking uncomfortable questions — in short, who do what their profession demands of them, which is to hold the government’s feet to the fire.” This is not the first time this has happened, as in 2019, the PTI’s official account “fired off several tweets denouncing as ‘anti-state’ mediapersons critical of the government.”


As Dawn rightly points out, in the end, “the PTI itself has set the tone for this vicious environment where journalists cannot do their job without risking their physical safety and mental well-being.”