‘Media operating in ominous climate’

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ISLAMABAD: According to an annual report, 2015 saw a sharp increase in censorship, with both journalists and media houses facing a silent but potent crackdown on dissent and freedom of expression.

The report, titled ‘Growing Sounds of Silence – The Year of Censorship’, was launched by the Freedom Network, an independent Pakistani media and civil liberties watchdog.

Defence analyst Imtiaz Gul told Dawn: “Certain institutions and individuals faced problems. We also need to keep Pakistan’s current condition in mind while judging state policies,” he said.

According to the report, the murders of journalists, media assistants and activists dropped to seven in 2015. However, the climate in which the media is operating has grown more ominous.

The report listed four journalists who were killed in Pakistan for their work: reporter Zafarullah Jatak from the Intekhab newspaper in Jaffarabad, Balochistan, tribal journalist Zaman Mehsud from Tank, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, journalist Hafizur Rehman of Neo TV from Kohat, and journalist Aftab Alam from Karachi.

Two media assistants were also killed: Bol TV’s human resource manager Nauman Ali, and Geo News DSNG technician Arshad Ali – both in Karachi. A prominent media activist, Sabeen Mahmud, was killed in Karachi.

A total 10 journalists and media assistants were attacked and injured, and there was also a marked increase in journalists who were ‘picked up’ from their homes or workplaces.

The number rose to nine. Most of the journalists who were picked up were tribal journalists, and all those journalists picked up and later freed involved army and paramilitary forces, such as the Sindh Rangers and the Frontier Corps.

2015 was also significant in terms of fighting impunity of crimes against the media. Sindh Rangers announced the arrest of Faisal ‘Mota’, who was convicted in the murder of Geo News reporter Wali Khan Babar.

The Sindh government also made public the arrest of the mastermind of Mahmud’s murder, while the Balochistan government made some progress against impunity under former chief minister Dr Abdul Malik’s leadership.

The government released findings of a judicial commission into the killing of journalists, and also arrested the alleged killers of journalists Irshad Mastoi and Abdur Rasool, and media assistant Mohammad Younus.

According to the report, all four provinces saw attacks on journalists, media assistants and media activists, while North and South Waziristan remained ‘no-go’ areas for journalists unless they were embedded with the military or with militants.

Pakistan also returned to ‘press advice’ from regulatory authorities for both print and electronic media. The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) and the Press Council of Pakistan (PCP) regularly advised the free press to avoid criticising Saudi Arabia for its war with Yemen or for the Mina stampede.