Free, but Unsafe

Reporters without Borders recently released the Press Freedom Index 2009 and Pakistan has dropped seven places to occupy the 159th rank, after two years at No. 152, mainly because of the security situation and instability.

“War and terrorism wrought havoc and exposed journalists to great danger…Despite having dynamic news media, Pakistan (159th) is crippled by murders of journalists and the aggressiveness of both the Taliban and sectors of the military. It shared (with Somalia) the world record for journalists killed during the period under review.”

We may have lots of TV channels and newspapers and radio stations, but it’s just not very safe for a foreign journalist to work in the country. The government is trying to provide protection, but then it was trying to protect GHQ too, and look how that turned out.

This is a loss for the Pakistani people because the best chance for Pakistan to get a better and more true representation in the world media is through foreign journalists. Too often the country gets a raw deal when it comes to reporting and news coverage from the international press – and that’s an understatement. Things are not as bad in the country as many believe, but the best way to prove it is to have foreigners visit the country and see it for themselves.

That’s why I am such a great fan of the New York Times journalist Adam Ellick, who has spent quite a bit of time in the country and is doing a great job reporting on issues as diverse as schools in Swat and the messages musicians in Pakistan are sending. One of his best works, in my opinion, is the story of Malala, a girl who had to move out from her home for six months while the Swat operation was in progress.

Oh, and most internet-savvy Pakistanis will be interested to know that he’s the guy behind the infamous Karachi fetish factory video as well šŸ˜‰

I had the opportunity of meeting him a few months ago at a book club and in hindsight, I wonder what he was thinking about us as we discussed Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and blew away over a thousand rupees in snacks and watermelon juice…while he had spent the past few months documenting the sad state of affairs in many places in our country. That’s the pity – it took a foreign journalist to share the story of Malala with Pakistanis. The Pakistani journalists, meanwhile, are busy with time-wasting rambles (watch the first four minutes of this episode of Meray Mutabiq to see what I mean).

That’s why Pakistan’s lowly position on the Press Freedom Index is cause for concern; despite a ‘democratic’ government and limited media controls at best, we continue to get bad press because of our bad press.



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