Pakistani journalists have been under fire for the last couple of years for just doing their job. Several journalists have either received a gag order or been fired from their jobs over their reporting.
“Many of our renowned journalists have been sacked from TV channels,” said Lubna Jerar Naqvi, a journalist with Geo News, in an event organised by Media Matters for Democracy in Karachi on Friday.
The senior journalist said that journalists were compelled to turn towards social media platforms, including YouTube, and their reach had grown since then.
Hija Kamran, an official of Media Matters for Democracy, said that the currents laws, including the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, are a threat to journalists.
“These laws were not made for journalists, but they are often used against them,” she said, carrying a guidebook for Pakistani journalists.
According to Kamran, the guidebook would help journalists understand the laws.
Quoting an example of censorship, SAMAA Digital’s News Editor Ismail Sheikh said that Khadim Hussain Rizvi, the leader of right-wing Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan group, was widely covered when his group staged its Faiazabad sit-in in the previous PML-N government.
“We were the first to report his arrest, even Dawn (the country’s most credible newspaper) quoted our story,” Sheikh said. “We had to take down the story,” he added without disclosing the reasons.
Others believe that the current state of censorship is even tougher than the ones in the military dictatorship.
“We have Yahya Khan’s era, Ziaul Haq’s era and Mushrraf’s era but none of them was as tough as the current era,” Naimatullah Khan, a member of the Karachi Union of Journalists, said.
The journalists don’t only blame the state and its institutions for the current wave of censorship but they also blame the owners of media houses.
“This time is good for owners and bad for the journalists and freedom of expression,” Khan said, adding that the ongoing sacking within the media industry has nothing to do with the economic crisis but it is an “artificial” crisis.
There are a number of instances when journalists come under fire over Twitter and Facebook for expressing their views and sharing their stories.
Naqvi believes that the threats to journalists have grown after the arrival of social media.
“I always tell my youngsters to report the stories and not become the stories.”
She advised the journalists to ignore the internet trolls and block them.
“The trends on social media against the journalists are fabricated and everybody knows that,” Naqvi said.
Sheikh, however, believed that the reporters do need to fill the gaps in their reporting.
“We should go back to our basics,” he said. “To avoid spreading disinformation, one must cross-check news stories with other sources.”