WHISTLEBLOW FOR US:
We have received another anonymous submission. This time, we interviewed the journalist who works as an editor a leading Pakistani newspaper. For his/her safety, we have not revealed the identity.
A PAKISTANI NEWSPAPER EDITOR TALKS ABOUT FACING CENSORSHIP IN THE NEWSROOM HE/SHE WORKS AT:
- As an editor of a leading newspaper, what are the pressures you have to face when working in the Pakistani news industry? Who are these pressures from? And how do u handle them?
There are many pressures, Top most is the military. Then the judiciary also. Militant groups also act as pressure groups. Plus the corporate sector which can hold back advertising.
- Do you think self-censorship is a common characteristic of Pakistani newsrooms? How has it come to this and how does it affect news reporting?
It is a very common characteristic. Self-censorship follows a tradition of enforced censorship, obviously. It affects news reporting drastically where we cannot even reproduce direct quotes. At times, we cover adverse stories by throwing fig leaves at the problem and by using euphemisms. At other times, we don’t even do that and leave the story to begin with.
- You have been a journalist for 15 years – Do you think the situation today for the media to self-censor – is it getting better, worse or remains the same?
The current wave of self censorship in the media is a result of direct threats and perceived threats and the situation is getting worse and better at the same time, even though it might sound like an inconsistent answer. The proliferation due to social media has made it plausible for mainstream media to make the case that they cannot not cover certain subjects because said news item is already out in the open. On the other hand, the establishment is getting far more brazen. You know what happened to Geo. This wasn’t a two-room local cable channel; it is the country’s largest channel.
- What other topics besides the military are a taboo?
There are many topics that we are hesitant to cover. As I mentioned earlier, they can be related to military, judiciary, militancy, big corporations. For example, we are hesitant when covering faith-based stories.
- Do you feel there is any way out for journalists to not censor? What will happen if you, your team member, colleagues etc don’t self-censor?
There is a way. And that lies with the strengthening of democracy. If democratically elected civilian governments actually call the shots, the ability of pressure groups to suppress the press will be reduced as such actions are completely illegal. Through democratic processes, they could be questioned about any possible suppression. Also, the media should look at the bigger picture, and though they should certainly criticize the government, be mindful of not being played into the hands of the powers that be, when doing so.
- Do you expect the environment to self-censor will change after the national elections scheduled for later this year? Or is this how it is going to be from now on and even after election not much will change with regards to media freedoms?
The crackdown against media is not related to the national elections. The industry is being forced to operate in such a fearful environment, and it will remain so in the future.
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