2014 most difficult year for Pakistani media: PPF annual press freedom report

Karachi: The year of 2014 has been one of the most difficult years for Pakistani media. In addition to the alarming but now familiar threats from militant groups, law enforcement agencies and political parties and groups, the Pakistani media became bitterly divided following the attempted murder of Hamid Mir, a popular television host of Geo News, Pakistan’s most viewed televisions channel.

The annual press freedom report released here Wednesday by Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF) said 2014 again saw media professionals paying a heavy price in blood for keeping Pakistani citizens informed in an increasingly polarized and violence wrecked country.  Eight media personnel, including three journalists were killed during the year.  At least thirty-five media practitioners were injured during 2014.

The unprecedented reversals in media freedoms include divisions between media organisations, which isolated the Geo-Jang media group.  The ensuing viscous propaganda between Geo and rival media group badly tarnished the image the media among the public. Having isolated the Geo-Jang group, the distribution of the group’s newspapers and of television channels was disrupted to an extent not previously seen in the history of the country.  In order seek a closure to the episode the government rather clumsily through Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) suspended the Geo Group for a period of 15 days.

The bickering between media groups overshadowed the terrible toll of life that included the fatal shooting of  Shan Dahar, reporter of “Abb Takk” TV channel on the night of December 31 in Badh, in Larkana district of Sindh province of Pakistan. He was shot in his back and was taken to the hospital where he remained unattended until he succumbed to his injuries in the early hours of January 1.  The same month on January 17 a targeted attack on the van of DSNG van of Express Television channel that killed three media workers.  In March the driver of television anchor Raza Rumi was killed in a shooting on his car.  Later in the year on August 28 unidentified assailants barged into the offices offices of “Online” news agency on in Quetta, the capital of the restive Balochistan province and murdered Irshad Mustoi, Bureau Chief, Abdul Rasool Khajjak, reporter and accountant Muhammad Younas.

The largest number of injuries occurred on August 31 when 28 journalists, cameramen and other media workers were injured during clashes between police and the protest demonstration led by the opposition Pakistan Tehrik Insaf (PTI) and Pakistan Awami Tehrik (PTI).

The next day on September 1, protestors belonging to PTI and PAT attacked the off ices of the state owned Pakistan Television (PTV). They took over the control room and broadcasts of PTV were disrupted for a few hours.  Supporters of PTI also continued to harass and intimidate Geo staff members after PTI Chairman Imran Khan alleged that Geo was complicit in the rigging of 2013 national elections.

Perhaps the only silver lining in all this could be the realization among the media of the need to develop effective codes of conduct to promote more ethical working environment and for effective mechanisms to resolve complaints against media.  There is also a greater realization among media organizations of the need to cooperate with civil society and political groups to arrest the dramatic deterioration in the freedom of expression and media safety situation in Pakistan.

On the positive side, the killers of Wali Khan Babar, a Pakistani journalist were convicted by the criminal justice system of Pakistan when on Saturday March 1 a Pakistani court convicted six defendants for their role in the murder of Wali Khan Babar, a Geo TV journalist who was shot dead in Karachi in January 2011.

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