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Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Pakistani journalists can challenge its powerful military, argues Indian professor

"Pakistan is not a haven for journalists, but its media can and do challenge its powerful military," opines Ashok Swain.

The National Assembly Standing Committee on Human Rights to take up the issue of press freedom in the country. Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari said that he has decided to convene a meeting of the committee after recent attacks against journalists. He announced this while talking to reporters after visiting the residence of self-declared journalist Asad Ali Toor, who had been attacked by some unidentified persons last week.

After a controversial speech of Hamid Mir in Islamabad, there has been a discussion about the state of press freedom in Pakistan. Ashok Swain, professor of Peace and Conflict Research at Uppsala University, Sweden, opines that in Pakistan journalists cannot challenge a powerful military.

Notably, Fawad Chaudhry, Minister for Information and Broadcasting, has refused to accept that Pakistan has failed to protect its journalists. The minister maintained that journalists are given protection in the country and they enjoy freedom to express their opinions.

During an interview with Stephen Sackur for BBC programme “HARDTalk”, which was released on Friday, the minister, who was even termed as “one of the government’s most robust defender”, gave his utmost to negate the impression that journalists are at any more risk in Pakistan than anywhere else in the world.

When asked by Sackur if he agrees that the cornerstone of any democracy is the protection of freedom of expression and independent journalism, Chaudhry quoted Article 19 of the Constitution that guarantees such protection.

When further pressed to respond to incidences occuring “day after day, month after month” that stand in stark contrast to such freedoms, and that the government is not protecting journalists and freedom of speech, the information minister said he will “obviously contest the claim”.

“Pakistan is probably one of the freest state[s] as far as media is concerned. We have about 43 international media channels, including BBC, here in Pakistan, we have 112 private channels, 258 FM channels, and 1,569 print publications.

“So you can imagine the kind of media we have. The size of the media itself defies your claim,” Chaudhry responded by saying.

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While talking about the role of security agencies of Pakistan, the minister made it clear that they do not target any journalists. He said that “Pakistan’s army respects human rights… they are one of the most civilised armies of the world.”