At a time when the media — often called the fourth pillar of state – is in chains and is fighting to gain its rights in the developing countries, in the West, where it enjoys the right to freedom of speech, it is making great contributions to foster human development, good governance, social and democratic values, and is playing its role in safeguarding human rights. But, in some Western countries, it has been jeopardizing world peace and trampling human rights and human values by committing despicable acts of blasphemy against religions and prophets, under the garb of freedom of speech. More perplexing is the fact that the perpetrators of such acts even try to defend this iniquity by calling it the freedom of press and an exercise of their right to free speech. The situation becomes more alarming when on one side, solidarity is shown with such scoundrels and the press organizations which completely lack of a sense of responsibility and on the other hand they are being condemned and cursed in almost all parts of the world.
In these circumstances, when there are no defined limits of media freedom and its biased and irresponsible use is increasingly becoming a global problem, the World Press Freedom Day was observed in all parts of the world on 3rd of May.
Another horrifying fact is that the series of blasphemous acts, which started in September 2005 with the publication of blasphemous caricatures in a Danish newspaper, is spreading in other parts of the world also and if such attempts are not thwarted immediately, then the world peace will be jeopardized and also at stake will be the international peace and international relations. The United Nations will have to come out of hibernation to stop such acts because if it can become all the more vigorous in defining the limits of freedom of expression regarding the Holocaust, then why the matter of adopting measures to stop acts of blasphemy against religions and prophets is still in the doldrums?
The electronic media in the developing world is passing through an evolutionary phase. In these countries, the relatively nascent media is working in an environment of competition and rivalry, so it, at times, indulges in showing its bias, and creating an environment of desperation, fear and consternation. The complex and perilous situation, we are facing today, demands that though media should be given freedom, yet it should be complemented with some responsibility that may be defined in form of a code of ethics. It means that while advocating freedom of media, we must also define its limits. But, these limits should not be imposed by the governments, religious and political parties, business houses, militants, extremists and terrorists; rather media should itself devise such a code, and assistance of and guidance from civil society, academia and public representatives can also be sought for in this regard.
Ironically, the ‘duty’ of imposing curbs on media and journalists in the third world countries has been assumed by those who are inimical to it and dread its constructive role because they want a media that is a puppet in their hands and that toes only the line they want it to. For the ‘crime’ of not dancing to their tunes, what they can do with media houses and media personnel, a glimpse of it can be seen from the statistics of last year provided by “Reporters Sans Frontières” commonly known as “Reporters Without Borders” — an international organization that promotes and defends freedom of information and freedom of the press. The report suggests that during the year 2014, 69 journalists were killed while they were performing their professional duties, while 178 were put behind the bars and 853 were arrested on one charge or the other. Moreover, 119 journalists were abducted in 2014 and the whereabouts of 40 of them are still unknown. The report also reveals that 1,846 journalists were either given life threats or were actually attacked. Even today, 159 journalists are behind bars in 31 countries around the world.
In almost all parts of the world numerous tactics are used to tame the media and these deal a heavy blow to the freedom of the press. Regrettably, this phenomenon is not limited to only the developing — or the third world — countries; even in the ‘developed’ countries where press is presumably free, there are many instances when the journalists had to pay a heavy price for following the call of conscience in form of being expelled from the job. Leaving all this aside, it is also a fact that the journalists’ lives are much safer in developed countries than the developing ones. Unlike the developing countries, arresting journalists and putting them behind bars is virtually impossible in the developed world. Even threatening a journalist in those countries is fraught with dangers.
To put it in numbers; one out of every seven citizens of the world lives in a country where there is a complete freedom of press. A report entitled “Freedom of the Press 2014,” prepared by an international organization “Freedom House” suggests:
“The analysis found that 14 percent of the world’s inhabitants lived in countries with a Free press, while 42 percent had a Partly Free press and 44 percent lived in Not Free environments.”
Analyzing this report in the context of countries reveals that during 2013, the protection of journalists was guaranteed in nearly 32 percent countries of the world. In these countries, government intervention in media affairs is virtually nil, and press is free from all financial and legal pressures. Similarly, in 35 percent of countries, press is neither completely free nor is it under curbs whereas the number of countries where the press is in chains and is compelled to toe the government line reach 33 percent. Despite all odds, the situation, nevertheless, has significantly improved during recent years as in 2003, press enjoyed complete freedom in only 23 percent of the total countries, with being somewhat free in 20 percent and under heavy curbs in 57 percent of the listed countries.
“Freedom House” lists Pakistan among the countries where complete freedom of press is still a dream. Moreover, on the “Press Freedom Index 2015” prepared by “Reporters Without Borders” Pakistan has been placed at 159th position among 180 countries. In Pakistan, many explicit as well as implicit factors, are strangling the prospects of media freedom. The precarious law and order situation in the country has jeopardized even the very existence of journalism as a profession, let alone the freedom phenomenon. In some parts of the country, a journalist cannot perform his professional duties without putting his own life in danger. This can be gauged from the fact that during the last 13 years, 65 journalists have lost their lives while performing their duties in Pakistan — 7.5 percent of the total journalists killed while on duty. According to “Reporters Without Borders,” during the period from 2002 to 2014, the year 2010 was the deadliest and the most fateful for the journalists as during only this year, 11 journalists lost their lives while performing their duties — 15 percent of total such deaths worldwide, and the highest in a single country. There was no letup even in 2011 when 10 Pakistani journalists — again most in a single country in the whole world — were killed. In 2010, Pakistan was ranked second on the list of countries where journalists were killed.
However, despite all these hardships and dangers, the valiant Pakistani journalists are performing their professional duty of keeping the people informed in all parts of the country. These extraordinary men and women, who serve as the lifeline for 644 newspapers and journals, 95 government and private television channels and 190 public and private sector radio stations, do not care even for their lives and are braving all persecutions and adversities to fulfil the demands of high quality journalism.
Let’s salute these unflinching, dauntless individuals on 3rd of May and hail those great journalists who have been — and are still being — punished for speaking only the truth. These are the people who are the true torchbearers of truth.