Report: Threats and Attacks Against Journalists have Increased by Over 60%

Pakistan’s Media Environment Becoming Increasingly Risky and Violent, with Five Journalists Killed in the Last Year, According to Annual Press Freedom Report.

The Freedom Network has released its annual Pakistan Press Freedom Report on World Press Freedom Day, highlighting an alarming increase in violence against journalists, media professionals and media organisations in the country.

The report, which covers the period from May 2022 to March 2023, shows that press freedom violations jumped to 140 in 2022-23 from 86 in the previous year, an increase of 63%.

The report from this year also lists at least five journalist murders that occurred in Pakistan during the time period under consideration.

Iqbal Khattak, Executive Director of Freedom Network, a media rights organisation that monitors violations of press freedom year-round, stated that the rise in violence against journalists is a serious concern and requires immediate attention.

Attacks on independent journalism prevent people from getting access to crucial information, especially at a time when the public needs dependable news to comprehend and address the issues that are being raised by the ongoing political and economic crises.

The report found that at least one press freedom violation occurred every third day during the 11-month period between May 1, 2022, and March 31, 2023. In total, 140 cases of threats and attacks against journalists, media professionals and media institutions were documented across all territories of Pakistan.

This equates to an average of around 13 cases a month, or at least one violation every three days, compared to one every five days in 2021-22.

Assault, threats, and physical attacks were the most common violations against journalists, accounting for nearly 60% of the total 140 cases.

These included 51 cases (36%) of assault, 21 cases (15%) of attacks that resulted in damage to equipment, homes of journalists, or offices of news organizations, and 14 cases (10%) of offline or online threats, including seven death threats.

Islamabad emerged as the riskiest place to practice journalism in Pakistan, with 40% of the violations (56 out of total 140 cases) recorded there.

Punjab was the second-worst region, with 25% of the violations (35 cases), and Sindh a close third at 23% (32 cases).

TV journalists were the most frequently targeted, accounting for at least 97 (69%) of the 140 cases against media practitioners.

The second most targeted medium was print, with 26 journalists targeted (19%), while digital journalists were attacked or threatened in 15 cases (11%).

Political parties were the biggest single-source threat actor, suspected in 21% of the 140 cases that targeted the media, according to the report. State officials came in second place, with suspicions surrounding their involvement in 19% of all cases.

The two remaining significant threat actors came from different sources. These were the ‘Others’ who were unspecified (such as private individuals, etc.), receiving credit for 27% of the cases, and the ‘Unknown’ with 24% of the cases.

The report also calls attention to attacks on female journalists, including one transgender reporter, who was the target in at least eight incidents.

While covering a political rally, one female journalist was killed. There have also been reports of physical harm being threatened offline and via digital threats against female journalists.

In 2021, Pakistan became the first nation in Asia to pass legislation pertaining to the safety of journalists when it passed the Protection of Journalists and Media Professionals Act.

However, Khattak notes that one and a half years later, the federal and Sindh journalists’ safety laws have not helped a single journalist, resulting in an increase in violence against them.

Freedom Network urges Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif to urgently fulfil his promise made at an international conference in Islamabad on November 2, 2022, to notify the safety commission required under the federal Protection of Journalists and Media Professionals Act 2021.

Written by Imad Khan

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