Freedom of Press not contained, not restrained

A strong lobby is busy in criticizing the caretaker government and the intelligence agencies for interfering in the freedom of speech and that has been termed as pre-poll rigging. When political parties level such allegations it is understandable because of rivalries but when journalists start supporting this narrative it becomes disturbing and can have serious consequences. Everyone has right to support and oppose any political party but not at the cost of national interest.
It is very strange army is called for assistance in those areas which are exclusive domain of civil administration and when they perform such duties they are accused of siding a particular party. This is malicious propaganda because army has nothing to do with the election as it was the responsibility of Election Commission of Pakistan. Army was helping ECP and was working as per code of conduct provided to them. Such allegations must be condemned as these are devoid of truth. In Pakistan be it electronic media or print media both enjoy complete freedom, they are free to say anything writes anything, but their target is khakis because they don’t react. Unfortunately freedom of press is being wrongly interpreted by majority of our intellectuals. We have an article in the constitution of Pakistan on freedom of press but mostly not understood.
Let us see what Article 19 of the Constitution of Pakistan says. It says that” Every citizen shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression, and there shall be freedom of the press, subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interest of the glory of Islam or the integrity, security or defense of Pakistan or any part thereof, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, 1[commission of] or incitement to an offence. While criticizing they forget that while granting right of freedom of speech it is subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interest of the glory of Islam or the integrity, security or defense of Pakistan or any part thereof, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court or incitement to offence. No one is against freedom of press but while exercising option of freedom of press it has to be within the frame work of constitution. How can you bring in discussion existence of Pakistan? Criticize the founder of Pakistan? Spread rumors about army? Calling them in aid of civil power and then accusing them? Create bogus accounts on social media against army and when questioned it is considered an infringement on freedom of rights. That is not acceptable in any civilized society. We are all out to avail the facility of freedom of speech in letter and spirit but it has to be within the framework of the constitution and keeping in mind the restrictions imposed under Article 19
It is true that Press Freedom is a crucial cornerstone in building strong democracies, enhancing good governance, and promoting justice and peace. Press freedom plays a vital role in the transformation of society by reshaping its political, economic and social aspects to defend and promote freedom of expression in the society so the importance of press freedom at any stage cannot be ruled out. Our Quaid said” Press and Nation rise and fall together” Therefore, it demands a greater sense of responsibility
It is also true that press is facing key challenges in the country that must be looked in to seriously by the government. Misbehavior, manhandling, physical attacks, detention, harassment and incidents of censorship are anti-press freedom activities. Due to intolerance in the society different interest groups including persons of authority, leaders of political parties, and cadres of armed groups attack journalists; seize their equipment and vandalized their vehicles. This trend only promotes self censorship among journalists; as a result under cover issues of public importance may be shelved and less and less reported. Recurring threats, interference in editorial independence, physical attack and blackmailing tactic can push the country’s press freedom scenario into a state of deep vulnerability. But then there is way out resolve such issues instead of indulging in confrontation
It is also true that journalists are invariably compelled to divulge the information source during the process of administrative justice or other legal challenge at the courts. Death threats and other sorts of systematic harassments also force them to reveal the sources of information, which is, by profession, every professional journalist has to maintain the confidentiality. This aspect of media professionalism may be provided with constitutional protection and guarantee. Thus it becomes collective effort on the part of journalists to approach directly and collectively to the concerned authorities. But society also demands greater sense of responsibility. It will be appropriate to quote an example of weekly famous paper “News of the world” 168 years old paper ((1843-2011) closed on 1o July 2011 with 2.8 million circulation on phone hacking by a journalist on an in going investigation of the case. The owner accepted his fault and closed the paper, what a display of character
Political institutions in every democratic system are the key actors in setting up and safeguarding media freedom, which provide support in establishing and developing media institutions in order to ensure people’s right to information and freedom of expression. Experiencing an adverse environment for free press since many media houses and major institutions have publicly understandable political allegiance, political leadership as their patrons and selective news production is their mission. Media patronage therefore, becomes a rigorous threat to free press since we lack culture of fair criticism and counter criticism may lead to violence including death threat and physical exploitation. As long as we remain divided we cannot achieve desired results
In our context, everybody loves to be a journalist because of this professions’ attraction to make money and names widely recognizable. Most of them never know that many journalists are under paid and temporary. It is therefore a side job for many and they have been engaged in other non-journalistic works for their everyday needs. On the other hand, many persons with non journalism background including political cadres, brokers, business entrepreneurs, NGO activists, etc. present themselves in the guise of journalists in different occasions to grasp opportunity or individual benefits. Either of these activities is non professional and they ultimately impede press freedom scenario.
Advertisement in news, sponsored coverage, fabricated news, paid news and selective priorities have made the news media out of track leading towards excessive commercialization. The audience and other stakeholders increasingly see the news media industry becoming a profit driven business than a social service representing the voice of voiceless
Freedom of expression is the second most important human rights after right to life. Since free press facilitates the expression of general public; it, therefore should and must not be the concern of only journalists or media entrepreneurs, but the subject of every stakeholder of society. Quality journalism is unlikely to flourish and shall remain a dream if the above mentioned challenges have not been addressed as soon as possible

The writer is a freelance journalist and defence Analyst.

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