Partial fulfilment of commitments is nothing to be proud of, especially when it comes to the protection of Pakistani journalists. The Institute for Research, Development, and Cooperation conducted a ten-year review of the “UN plan of action on the protection of journalists and the issue of impunity in Pakistan (2012-2022) Advocacy (Irada) concludes that Pakistan has met only a portion of its pledges to protect its journalism community. Even that accomplishment bears the imprint of the efforts made by civil society, the media, and the UN over the last decad.
Now, Pakistan must enact new legislation to ensure that perpetrators of attacks on journalists do not walk free. The assessment advises that the government ensure that all assailants are held accountable. It is worth noting that the 2012 United Nations plan of action functioned as a guide, urging all member nations and stakeholders to protect journalists. Pakistan was chosen as one of five pilot countries to carry out the plan in 2013.
After nearly a decade of relentless agitation by civil society and the media, Pakistan’s government enacted a unique law to protect journalists. This law has become an exemplary example of how, via campaigning, a statute commits the government to using the best practises of the UN plan of action. Crimes against journalists must not go unpunished, and a framework to counter impunity must be in place. The study conducted to complete this assessment resulted in an evaluation that quantifies Pakistan’s performance while implementing the plan of action. The data demonstrate that even after the parliament passed the law, journalists’ safety indicators remain inadequate.
Certain positive developments occurred as well, as some key acts are anticipated to have near- to medium-term consequences. Given that the country received an overall score of 1.64 on a scale of 0 to 3, it is sad to observe that Pakistan’s slightly better performance in some areas has not resulted in the abolition of or even a significant reduction in impunity.
Attacks on journalists have occurred on a regular basis, with no end in sight. The fact that the Arshad Sharif murder case remains unresolved and ambiguous gives us pause when it comes to the protection of journalists in the country. Despite the fact that he was skilled abroad, nothing in the condition of Pakistan is of any consolation to journalists practising their craft. One expects that the Supreme Court’s suo motu notice may aid in the resolution of this issue.
Meanwhile, the legislative framework that is now in place for the protection of journalists at the federal and provincial levels must serve as a model for other jurisdictions. Such commissions are required in all provinces to provide a deterrent against attacks on journalists. Then there’s the issue of investigation and prosecution, which fail on multiple fronts; they’re neither effective nor efficient. Overall, we have made progress in protecting our journalists, but we are still far from a situation where a journalist may aspire to perform their job without fear of being attacked—and then not receiving justice.