Naya Pakistan without Free Media?

Imran Khan admitted a fact many times that he became Prime Minister of Pakistan because of a vibrant free media which provided him lot of space against some Nawaz Sharif and Asif Ali Zardari. Private TV channels were started in Pakistan in 2002.At that time Imran Khan was the only member of his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) in the National Assembly. After 16 years he is enjoying the support of 176 members in the National Assembly. He is lucky that Army and Supreme Court are standing behind him in the first three months of his government but he should be concerned about the growing criticism on him in media. Free media definitely provided him space against Nawaz Sharif and Zardari but media cannot defend his U-turns. He made a big announcement against some religious fanatics in a televised speech, warned them not to take the law into their hands but backed out within 24 hours. He and other powerful institutions including Supreme Court are showing their muscles to opposition politicians but not to fanatics who called for the murder of Chief Justice and who called for mutiny in armed forces. Many independent journalists and analysts are criticizing the U-turns of Imran Khan and he is saying that U-turn is the sign of a good politician. He lost the support of free media very fast in the first three months of his government. These days Journalist bodies are complaining about “unannounced censorship” and growing threats to media freedom and Imran Khan is failed to protect the media freedom guaranteed under article 19 of the constitution of Pakistan.

Journalism was always a dangerous profession in Pakistan. My late father Waris Mir told me three decades ago “Don’t try to become a journalist. It’s a dangerous profession in Pakistan”. My father was a professor of Journalism at University of Punjab Lahore and he was a famous columnist. When I started writing about student problems during my college days my father never encouraged me. One day he gave me a small lecture about the hazards of journalism in Pakistan. He himself faced multiple pressures after criticizing the policies of military dictator General Zia ul Haq told me very clearly, “Government is not happy with me, some religious fanatics also following me day and night, they may assassinate me or poison me, it is very dangerous to write truth in Pakistan. You better play cricket and stay away from writing.”

I was very much disappointed but within a few months the fears of my father came true. He died one day in mysterious circumstances. Many human rights activists including Asma Jahangir demanded his autopsy but government authorities buried him within few hours of his death. Fortunately or unfortunately, I never followed the advice of my father. I joined journalism immediately after his death on the wish of my late mother. She was a brave woman. She even encouraged one of my younger brothers to become a journalist and follow the footsteps of our father. She is no more alive to see that journalism is still a very dangerous profession in Pakistan.

Three decades had been passed but situation getting worse for journalists in Pakistan. Today there is no dictatorship in Pakistan. Imran Khan is an elected Prime Minister of Pakistan but a famous columnist Wusatullah Khan recently said in Faiz International Festival at Lahore that dictators were better than the new elected government of Pakistan. He said that we were aware that who was our enemy and who was friend during dictatorships but these days we don’t know who is our enemy, we don’t know who is after our lives and jobs. Pakistani media is facing a chaos.

No doubt that there is lot of growth in Pakistani media in last one decade. More and more young people are coming into this profession because they think media is very independent and becoming a tool of social change in Pakistan. But in fact, media is paying a very heavy price of its independence. Around 120 media workers had been killed since 9/11 in Pakistan. Many of them were kidnapped and tortured before death. Sometimes we know their killers but killers are more powerful than the law. I know dozens of journalists who have been forced to quit this profession or who left their home towns. I also know some journalists who refused to quit the profession and also refused to leave their home towns and as a result they were killed. Physical attacks and threats of violence represent an extreme form of censorship. Whenever we complain about growing pressures on media Imran Khan and his ministers ask us, “Oh, who is doing all this?” Few days ago, veteran journalist and TV anchor Nusrat Javeed was fired by Dawn News. Management of Dawn News asked him to leave due to financial crunch because new government stopped advertisements and channel had no money to pay him salary. Nusrat was considered a critic of Imran Khan. But same thing happened with some pro-Imran anchors like Moeed Pirzada of Dunya TV. Geo News asked Imtiaz Alam and Shahzad Chaudhry to quit program ‘Report Card’. Imtiaz Alam is a critic of Imran Khan and Shahzad Chaudhry is a supporter of Imran Khan. Apparently, they were asked to leave due to financial crunch and offered to continue as columnists for The News but they refused. Nobody knows who is putting pressure on TV channel owners to fire anchors and other staff. It is not correct that only anti-Imran journalists losing jobs. Defenders of Imran Khan are also losing jobs and Imran is in position to help them.

Few days ago, Karachi Press Club was raided by some armed people who were not in uniform. Office bearers of KPC resisted the raid and bravely asked armed people about their identity. They said they were looking for some terrorists but they went back without picking anyone. Next day they arrested one local journalist Nasrullah from his residence without any warrants. When journalists started protests Nasrullah was produced in an anti-terror court and police got his physical remand under the charges of having some old Jihadi magazines found at his home. Provincial Government of PPP in Sindh is not aware who ordered the arrest of Nasrullah. Colleagues of Nasrullah accused that he was picked up by some people who were from Army but Army authorities denied the charge. Journalists think that it is a general message to all the whole media in the country to behave. But who sent this message? Nobody knows. One senior journalist of Dawn newspaper Cyril Almieda faced treason charge just because he interviewed Nawaz Sharif. Another journalist Arshad Sharif was booked by Islamabad police for a story he broken on his TV channel. Both cases were started when PML-N was in power. Journalist community never supported Cyril and Arshad Sharif with full force. Divisions within working journalists are another reason of current chaos in Pakistani media.

Many people think that media is very strong in Pakistan. They think that anchors and columnists are very influential but the fact is that many of us are not living a normal family life. I am paying a heavy price of what we write or speak. I am carrying two bullets in my body even today. People who attacked me in 2014 in Karachi and pumped six bullets in my body were not arrested. I cannot move from my home or from my office without a bullet proof vehicle and without armed security guards. If I am living a miserable life in the capital of Pakistan then think about hundreds of Pakistani journalists who are working in other conflict areas. They cannot afford bullet proof vehicles and armed guards. They are more vulnerable than me. They are facing threat of impunity day and night from state actors and non-state actors. In October this year a journalist Sohail Khan filed a written complaint in the DPO office of Haripur about the threats to his life by some influential drug traffickers. When he came out of the office of DPO he was brutally assassinated. Government is failed to provide any security to journalists who informed them about threats in writing. Freedom Network Pakistan recently released a report about 26 journalists who were murdered in Pakistan in last five years in the line of their duty. Out of 26 cases only 16 were sent to courts and trial of just six was concluded. One TV channel Waqt News was shut down recently. Some more TV channels may shut down in coming months. Hundreds of media workers lost jobs and more will lose in coming days. What should the journalists do? Should they quit this profession? No, we will not quit journalism; we will not run away from Pakistan because our readers and viewers are our biggest strength. People of Pakistan are the best judge. They know we are fighting for their right to know. We are their hope. Enemies of media freedom cannot silence our voice because we live in the hearts and minds of our people. If this media can make a King it can also break a King.

One thing is clear. We will keep fighting. A very senior journalist. We will not surrender. It is the constitutional obligation of government to provide security to journalist community. Government is aware of the physical and economic threats to us from non-state actors as well as from state actors. If anything bad happens to Pakistani media this government will be held responsible. Three decades ago my father advised me to stay away from journalism. Now I am thinking to give the same advice to my daughter who started writing in newspapers but I know she will not listen to me and she will politely ask me “papa don’t stop me I will fight”. New generation of Pakistan will not accept unannounced censorship in their homeland and if Imran Khan will not help free media he will go down in history as a slave of those who cannot tolerate free media in Pakistan. Imran Khan must formulate a strategy to help free media for coming out of a chaos situation. He should consult all stake holders including working journalists. He can make a Naya Pakistan with the help of a free media not with the help of slave media.

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