Pakistan: Not Free

Freedom House rates Pakistan’s news media “not free” with 61 points on a scale of 0 to 100.

Higher scores signal greater restrictions on a country’s news media. Freedom of the Press 2011 identified the greatest threats to independent media in 196 countries and territories. The report shows that global media freedom has reached a new low point, contributing to an environment in which only one in every six people live in countries with a Free press. In 2010, there were particularly worrisome trends in the Middle East and the Americas, while improvements were noted in sub-Saharan Africa.

Behind the Rating

Media freedom in Pakistan remained constrained by official attempts to restrict critical reporting and by the high level of violence against journalists, Freedom House reports.

The constitution and other legislation, such as the Official Secrets Act, authorize the government to curb freedom of speech on subjects including the constitution itself, the armed forces, the judiciary and religion.

Harsh blasphemy laws have occasionally been used to suppress the media.

The physical safety of journalists remained a major concern. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, at least four journalists were killed in Pakistan during 2009.

Media Scene

Sharp contrasts define the media landscape in Pakistan. The state’s virtual monopoly on broadcasting has been broken, and many private radio and television stations are on the air. However, threats and harassment of journalists persist. The Committee to Protect Journalists has said that Pakistani journalists “continued to be targeted from many sides.”

In 2002,  militants kidnapped and killed Daniel Pearl, the South Asia bureau chief for the U.S.-based Wall Street Journal, while he reported on links between Pakistani militant groups and the al-Qaida terrorist network. Pearl’s killers documented his execution in a digital videotape that showed his beheading. “That an American journalist working for a powerful news organization could be so easily targeted sent tremors through the local press corps,” the Committee to Protect Journalists reported.

In 2007, the Committee to Protect Journalists ranked Pakistan among the world’s “worst backsliders on press freedom” — one of the countries where press freedom “has deteriorated the most over the last five years.” Ten journalists were killed in Pakistan in 2006 and 2007.

About 11 percent of the population had Internet access in 2009.

The simmering hostility between Pakistan and India often takes expression as a war of words in their respective media, the BBC notes. Occasionally, broadcasts from the other country have been banned.

There was an influx in the number of foreign journalists in Pakistan following the United States’ declaration of war on terrorism in 2001. Pakistan’s proximity to Afghanistan and its cooperation with the U.S. made it the logical staging point for reporting on the war. Pakistan restricted access to the Afghan border and refugee camps.

 

About the Rating: Freedom House, a New York–based organization that supports the expansion of democracy and freedom, rates the level of press freedom in countries around the world every year. Freedom House assigns each country a score from 0 to 100. The lower the score, the greater the press freedom. In determining its scores, Freedom House assesses the political, economic and legal climate in which the news media operate.

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