Tuesday, December 17, 2019
Freedom of expression and press, as enshrined in the Constitution of Pakistan, 1973 under Article 19 as a fundamental right, are essential ingredients of democracy. Unfortunately, they are under fire not only in Pakistan but also across the world. Both of these elements have become anathema to the selected few who want to hide the truth under the carpet thereby to avoid being criticised. Sadly, the state of freedom of press and safety of journalists in Pakistan is worrisome as the journalists are facing all sorts of threats and mental agony. Indeed, curb on the freedom of the press is tantamount to curbing the rights of citizens.
Undeniably, the restrictions on the freedom of expression is prevalent across the world. Beginning from Russia, the United States to the developing countries all have restricted freedom of speech under different pretexts; media persons are being pressurised to toe the line of the authorities or face the music. In the United States, President Trump’s antipathy towards those media houses who do not report what suits the president’s whims and wishes are disdained. It was quite shocking especially the way the CNN’s Jim Acosta’s microphone was cut off and his White House credentials were revoked. That phenomenon is indeed unwarranted keeping in view the global standing of America and the much sway it wields across the world.Shockingly, in our country, Steven Butler who is the Asia Programme Coordinator of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)was barred entry. After his arrival at the Lahore airport, he was deported. He was informed that his name was in the “stop list”. In the first instance, in case his name was in the stop list, then why was he issued visa as it is issued after due security clearance? Why he was not informed prior to this departure? Such a situation is really painful for the media persons, masses and the country’s overall progress at large.
Recently, Sindh Provincial Parliamentary Task Force on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), of which I am Convener, in coordination with the National Assembly’s Task Force on SDGs, UNESCO Pakistan, Parliamentarians Commission on Human Rights (PCHR) and Peace and Justice Network (PJN) held two days event on freedom of expression and protection of journalists at the Sindh Assembly which was attended by the MPAs, journalists, civil society activists, etc. to deliberate on the target 16.10 of the SDGs.
It was quite shocking to know that the violence against the journalists has increased tremendously. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 1,358 journalists have been killed across the world between 1992 and 2019.Besides,as per Freedom Network, at least 33 journalists were murdered for their journalism work in Pakistan during the past six years, including seven in the past one year (November 2018 to October 2019) alone. Depressingly, Pakistan has been ranked 142 out of 180 counties on the World Press Freedom index and is among the 13 countries where journalists are murdered and their killers go scot-free. In the last 10 years, at least 16 such cases were found in Pakistan.In this backdrop, practicing journalism professional is certainly a challenging task.
Violence in any manifestation against the press is unjustifiable and deserves across the board condemnation. We must admit that free press is vital for vibrant democracy
Ironically, Dawn newspaper whose foundation stone was laid down by the founder of the nation, Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah is under severe pressure. After the London Bridge attack, an imported mob thronged the head office of Dawn in Islamabad harassing the staff and chanting slogans calling for the shut down of the newspaper, which is certainly condemnable. As my party’s slogan “democracy is our politics” and free press is indispensable for it, Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP) Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari visited the Dawn office and condemned the besieging of the newspaper office and expressed solidarity with the staff. Simultaneously, on the second day of the event on the SDGs 16.10, all the participants condemned the harassment of Dawn staffers in particular and the violence against the press in general.
Violence in any manifestation against the press is unjustifiable and deserves across the board condemnation. We must admit that free press is vital for vibrant democracy. For that purpose, on the second day of the event on SDG 16.10 we were joined by Sindh Information Minister Saeed Ghani and deliberated on the “Sindh Safety of Journalists Bill” which will soon be introduced in the Provincial Assembly of Sindh. Nonetheless, there was a disagreement on the definition of the “journalist” amongst the participants. Mazhar Abbas, Afzal Butt and others were of the view that the full-time journalists be included in the definition, while others recommended that the scope of definition be broadened in the light of emerging trends such as vlogging, social media, etc. Hence, it was agreed that once the bill has been introduced in the House, media persons will be consulted and their input will be incorporated in the bill at the review stage. Afterall, that legislation pertains to their safety and rights.
Thus, if we are to prosper with a vibrant democracy entailing free and responsible press, it is essential to let the culture of tolerance flourish where freedom of expression as permissible under article 19 of the Constitution of Pakistan, 1973, and the Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) are valued and appreciated. Moreover, it is high time that all the legislatures of Pakistan have considered the journalists’ safety law in order to provide safety and ensure the welfare of media persons. There is a need to make all-out efforts to improve ranking on the World Press Freedom index, in addition to theprosecuting those involved in violence against journalists. At the same time, it is also necessary that media, which is considered as the fourth pillar of state, performs its duty responsibly and avoid airing unauthentic news. This measure will further add to the credibility of media.
PPP Chairperson Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari on Tuesday said that the special court's decision to hand former military ruler retired Gen Pervez Musharraf a death sentence in the high treason case against him was a "historic" one.
Earlier today, a three-member bench of a special court, in a landmark verdict, handed a death penalty to Musharraf in a long-drawn treason case. The former president has been convicted for abrogating the Constitution and imposing an emergency in the country in 2007.
During a conversation with reporters in Ghotki today, Bilawal said: "We are hopeful that now, after this democratic verdict, our courts will continue to issue democratic rulings.
"In the past, our institutions always stood with non-democratic forces. After this verdict, we can hope that our courts will side with justice and democracy for all days to come."When a reporter asked if the politicians, who stood by Musharraf when he imposed martial law in the country, should receive punishment as well, the PPP chief said: "There is a lot of debate as to the scope of the treason law and whether it should [have included] the 1999 incident [coup] or the 2007 incident. But we should talk about what is in front of us [...] It is a historic decision."
The PPP chief said that the party will "read carefully" the detailed verdict, once it is issued.
He lamented that several cases, including that of the murder of his mother, former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, were still pending in courts and demanded that they be picked up as well.
Bilawal hailed the bails granted to PPP leadership, including Asif Ali Zardari, Faryal Talpur, Khursheed Shah and Agha Siraj Durrani.
"All the players of PPP are out now, we will struggle together and this government will go home soon," he declared.