ISLAMABAD: The annual Pakistan Press Freedom Report released by Freedom Network has documented a surge in threats and attacks against journalists, media professionals, and media organizations in Pakistan.
The report covers the period between May 2022 and March 2023 and reports 140 cases of press freedom violations, indicating an annual increase of around 63 percent.
Escalation in Violence Against Journalists
According to the report, the country’s media environment has become riskier and more violent in recent months, with at least five journalists killed in the period under review. Freedom Network’s Executive Director, Iqbal Khattak, called the escalation in violence against journalists “disturbing” and demanded urgent attention.
Impact on Access to Information
Khattak added that attacks on independent journalism block access to essential information, which is especially damaging during the ongoing political and economic crises when the public needs reliable news to understand the issues and respond to them.
Laws to Ensure Journalists’ Safety
In 2021, Pakistan became the first country in Asia to legislate on the safety of journalists, but Khattak noted that one and a half years later, the federal and Sindh journalists’ safety laws have not helped a single journalist.
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He urged Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif to urgently fulfill his promise to notify the safety commission required under the federal Protection of Journalists and Media Professionals Act 2021. The absence of the commission continues to promote impunity of crimes against journalists.
He also urged the Sindh government to equip its provincial safety commission under the Sindh Protection of Journalists and Other Media Practitioners Act 2021 with resources.
Key Findings of the Report
One press freedom violation every third day
The report documented at least one press freedom violation every third day, with 140 cases of threats and attacks against journalists, media professionals, and media institutions across all territories of Pakistan. The main types of violations were assault, attacks resulting in damage to equipment, homes of journalists, or offices of news organizations, and offline or online threats.
Assault, Threats, and Physical Attacks Form Majority of Violations
Assault, threats, and physical attacks formed the majority of violations, accounting for nearly 60 percent of the total 140 cases. Specifically, 51 cases (36 percent) of assault, 21 cases (15 percent) of attacks resulting in damage, and 14 cases (10 percent) of offline or online threats were recorded.
Riskiest Regions for Journalists
Islamabad emerged as the riskiest place to practice journalism in Pakistan, with 40 percent of the violations recorded there. Punjab was the second-worst with 25 percent of the violations, and Sindh was a close third at 23 percent.
TV Journalists Most Frequently Targeted
TV was the largest victim medium, with at least 97 (69 percent) of the 140 cases against its practitioners. The second most targeted medium was print, with 26 journalists targeted (19 percent), while digital journalists were attacked or threatened in 15 cases (11 percent).
Leading Threat Actors
Political parties were the biggest single-source threat actor targeting media, suspected by victim journalists or their families in 21 percent of the 140 cases. State functionaries were a close second, with suspected involvement in 19 percent of the total cases. The remaining two significant threat actors were the miscellaneous ‘Others,’ including private individuals, with 27 percent of cases attributed to them, and the multisource ‘Unknown’ with 24 percent of cases.
Violence Against Women Journalists
At least eight cases of violence were reported against women media professionals, including one transgender woman journalist. One woman journalist was killed during the coverage of a political rally. Other forms of violence reported against women journalists included assault leading to injury, digital threats, and offline threats of physical harm.