The importance of free media and freedom of expression was highlighted once again when journalists Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov won the Nobel Peace Prize for their fights to defend freedom of expression in the Philippines and Russia. Both of them have done work that led to threats from the rulers of their respective countries.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee said in a statement that Ressa and Muratov won the Nobel for “their efforts to safeguard freedom of expression, which is a precondition for democracy and lasting peace”. The statement added that “they are representatives of all journalists who stand up for this ideal in a world in which democracy and freedom of the press face increasingly adverse conditions”.
It is an honour for journalists around the world that people of their fraternity were awarded the most prestigious award for standing up for free media. At a time when journalists are facing problems and many countries are clamping down on free media, it gives journalists more strength and courage when their struggle is recognised.
Unfortunately, like many other countries, the space for free media is fast shrinking in Pakistan. The government claims that the Pakistani media is more independent than even western countries but the fact of the matter is that censorship has increased over the years, journalists have faced physical attacks in the capital but no one has been arrested, and relentless attacks against journalists continue online as well.
The government claims that they do not shy away from sharing facts with the media but in a recent report published in The News, it says that when Geo News sent approximately 400 different queries to 36 key institutions in the past nine months under the Right to Information (RTI) law but 90 per cent of them were either not responded to or simply declined by them. Only 43 (10 per cent) queries were partially responded to by them through either very little or patchy information in 2021.
It is pertinent that the government realises that the media is not its enemy. Media will act as a watchdog and it is media’s job to report the truth. Journalists will continue to do their job and such tactics will not make them stop. A free and vibrant media is critical for democracy. One should believe in more freedom, not less. Long live media freedom.