Threats to Journalists Threaten Press Freedom

Nov 16th, 2009 | By | Category: Dawn, The Nation

There is no defense for threatening journalistsThreats to the safety of journalists represent a serious problem in Pakistan, and the danger journalists face in our country has resulted in a respected international NGO ranking press freedom in Pakistan below Afghanistan and Zimbabwe. Unfortunately, some people like Ahmed Quraishi are trying to defend these threats.

Reporters Without Borders recent 2009 Press Freedom Index lists Pakistan at 159 out of 175 nations represented. Mr. Ilhan Niaz took issue with the harsh ranking in Dawn yesterday, saying that “One can only wonder what methodology would enable Pakistan to be bracketed alongside one party dictatorships, theocratic police states and warlord infested polities on the issue of press freedom.” After inquiring with Reporters Without Borders, the newspaper was told that “The bad situation of Pakistan in the ranking is mainly due to the attacks against journalists by [T]aliban and other groups…”

This should not come as too much of a surprise to Mr. Niaz since in May of this year, Reporters Without Borders and International Federation of Journalists sent a joint letter to the President requesting him “to take urgent action to condemn any suggestion or threat of attacks against these three men and other media personnel in Pakistan.”

On Friday, Ahmed Quraishi defended his and other newspapers’ efforts to threaten journalists by unilateraly declaring them spies – a move recently condemned by the Committee to Protect Journalists as well as other Pakistani media outlets and Pakistani blogs.

Quraishi dedicates a significant portion of his column to listing incidents in which journalists engaged in such “unusual activities” as “travelling [sic] to sensitive parts of the country.” In other instances, Quraishi reports incidents that are completely unrelated to journalists or Pakistan, such as John Yettaw’s visit to Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and US special operations agents riding in a car with fake number plates. What do these incidents have to do with journalists? Nothing.

In fact, Quraishi even says in his article, “None of the above might be a spy…” and goes on to defend his paper’s irresponsible behavior by complaining that the US media misreported about Pakistan’s nuclear programme in the past. It’s as if Quraishi thinks that “two wrongs make a right.”

Quraishi, and The Nation‘s editorial staff as a whole, continue to miss the deadly point of their actions. Journalists in Pakistan have been repeatedly attacked and murdered – not for being spies, for being journalists.

A brief scan of the Reporters Without Borders haedlines for Pakistan over the past year reveal significant dangers for journalists in Paksitan. Here are only some of the headlines:

Ahmed Quraishi says of the Matthew Rosenberg accusations that “some of our commentators would do well to advise US media representatives to move to Islamabad instead of reporting on Pakistan from New Delhi. That might help the US media reduce some of its hostility toward Pakistan.” But Ahmed Quraishi clearly cannot ensure the safety of Mr. Rosenberg. In fact, he has all but signed his death warrant.

There is no defense for threatening journalists. Threats to journalists threaten press freedom. It is a sad day when international journalists feel they must report on Pakistan from another country because of concerns for their safety. It is a sadder day still when the safety of journalists is made even more threatened by people like Ahmed Quraishi.

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