By Umer Tariq
In his book Liberty and the News, Walter Lippmann famously wrote, “There can be no higher law in journalism than to tell the truth and shame the devil.”
It is hard to argue against what Lippmann wrote; indeed there cannot be any higher law than to tell the truth. However when we look at the media landscape in Pakistan following that ‘higher law’ is no mean feat to pull off.
Journalists in Pakistan work under immense pressures which come from a variety of actors. From pressure of those who cannot be named to the pressure from terror groups and religious extremists, journalists in Pakistan have to face it all. There is also the “small” matter of economic pressure that majority of journalists in Pakistan face but is largely unreported.
The 2017 World Press Freedom Index ranked Pakistan 139th out of 180 countries, something that should be cause of serious concern for a “democratic” country. The recent attack on senior journalist Ahmad Noorani, associated with one of the most powerful media group in the country in broad daylight is a good example of how vulnerable journalists are. The attack on Noorani was followed by a character assassination campaign against him from a section of media. Two other senior journalists, Matiullah Jan and Azaz Syed have also been target of attacks in recent months, but luckily the two survived any injury. The three names mentioned above are all well-known journalists associated with powerful media groups, but even the powerful media groups seem ‘powerless’ when it comes to unmasking those behind these attacks.
Despite these pressures, journalists do have a “window” where they are allowed to exercise the constitutional right of “freedom of expression”. This is where it gets interesting in an unfortunate way, I would like to reproduce what senior journalist Moeed Pirzada wrote in his 2014 article ‘The Pakistani Media: ‘Seth’ vs. State’, Pirzada wrote, “I wanted the Supreme Court to investigate who in Pakistan is exercising the freedom of expression guaranteed under Article 19 of the Constitution and under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – the seth or the journalists working for him? The fundamental question which I thought the Supreme Court should ask is: Is the Pakistani media a ‘private space’ to be governed by seths and corporations for their own economic and political interest, or is this a ‘public space’ that belongs to the citizens of Pakistan as a ‘marketplace of ideas,’ as once argued by John Stuart Mill?” The answer to the question posed by Pirzada is rather straight forward, today, the right to freedom of expression is being exercised only by the seths for their own economic and personal interests. Under such circumstances the space for journalists in Pakistan is very small; press freedom and freedom of expression is exercised within this small space.
*The writer is Deputy Editor of Daily The Patriot.