Dr Rasmus Nielsen, Director of Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, Oxford says ‘Journalism is an imperfect but important part of democracy: we as citizens are empowered to make meaningful decisions about ideals, interests and aspirations – about who we vote for, but also whether we want to get engaged in other ways. The precondition for that is knowing something about the world that goes beyond your personal experience.’
Journalists play an important role in helping democracies prosper and fill the gap between the masses and the government. A journalist’s calling is not only tough but often also life threatening. They have to deal with censorship, pressure, threats, physical abuse, violent attacks or mortal violence.
November 2 every year is celebrated as the “UN International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists” since 2013.
As per UNESCO data 1010 journalists have been killed between 2006 – 2017 in the line of duty.
This is not a new phenomenon nor is it limited to any specific country or region; however recently the safety of journalists has seen a worsening increase. Jamal Khashoggi’s death under mysterious circumstances a well-known journalist and critic of the Saudi Regime speaks volumes about the threats journalists have to deal with. Apart from such incidents journalists also lose their life while reporting from the field like Shah Marai an Agence France Press correspondent, killed in an attack by ISIS in Afghanistan in April this year. A Judge Malaysian sentenced two Reuters reporters Wa Lone, 32 and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, to 7 years jail for being guilty of breaching a law on state secrets. A world famous political cartoonist, Zunar, or Zulkiflee Anwar Ulhaque, faces 43 years of jail in Malasia, 9 of his books have been banned and his house raided to look for incriminating evidence. Danial Pearl of the Wall Street Journal was beheaded by terrorists in Pakistan while following a lead for a story.
As with journalists from many countries, Pakistani journalists also endure pressure for being part of the journalist community; may it be in the form of internal or external pressure, censorship or even death. According to Committee to Protect Journalists, 60 journalists were killed in Pakistan since 1998 to date where the motive for killing was confirmed.
Recently, Cyril Almedia Assistant Editor and Columnist for Dawn was put on the Exit Control List for publishing an interview of former PM Nawaz Sharif. Saleem Shahzad was killed and his body was recovered from Upper Jhelum Canal by Pakistan Navy divers after his book about alleged links between Al-Qaeda and Pakistani establishment was published. Wali Khan of GEO News was killed by allegedly by Saulat Mirza and Faisal Mota of a Political party’s militant wing in Karachi, they were sentenced to death by a court in March 2015.
As social media is the new medium for spreading news among the masses, this is fast becoming an unsafe zone for journalists. Now everything posted in Social Media especially by female journalists receives backlash in shape of harassment and threats online resulting in many opting to self-censorship.
Apart from duties journalists are supposed to carry out under the umbrella of “work” they are human beings also with a life outside their work which should be recognized and considered.
Killing of or disappearance of journalists under the garb of ‘national interest’ is a violation of human rights; while those who carry out these “crimes” against journalists are not held accountable. Many now feel that it is about time “national interest” is defined clearly so that people understand where the line is, and think before crossing it; this will also prevent the argument given by people in power when they want media to not discuss issues that exposes them.
Author: Umaima Tahir Wadood