INTERVIEW: Raza Rumi talks to safenewsrooms.org
SAFENewsrooms.org speaks to Raza Rumi, editor of Daily Times about the difficulties he has in managing the newsroom of his paper. Raza Rumi currently lives in the United States of America, and left Pakistan in 2014, after he survived an assassination attempt by terrorists, suspected to radical Islamist groups.
- 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 you handle them?Pakistani editors face pressures from multiple actors including government, military, non-state actors and religious groups. At times, street power is mobilised to bring editors under pressure. Dealing with sensitive subjects in terms of national security, social, and religious issues especially blasphemy bring out various kinds of actors to pressurise the media to project their point of view. Handling such pressure is never easy so one has to weigh in, sometimes be adamant and on other occasions retreat.
- 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?Increasingly, self-censorship is becoming a norm. Usually when a journalist is harassed, it is said that ‘unknown’ persons attacked him/her. It is the fear of unknown that has led to self-censorship becoming a norm. It affects news reporting in various ways, as sometime stories/reports are edited to reflect the popular narrative. Often times many stories that should have been in the newspaper are not printed at all. Even in publishing op-eds and writing editorials we have to censor ourselves. It’s now a brutally real norm.
- You have been a journalist for over a decade Do you think the situation today for the media is getting worse or better? Or does it remain the same?It is getting worse with time. The controls being exerted on media houses through various means have become more sophisticated and insidious. However, the current climate of an undeclared censorship is alarming as such controls were there in early Zia years. Even then there were outlets like Viewpoint that used to be critical. Today TV channels and their staffers have become an arm of censorship as they declare people as blasphemers and traitors if they don’t toe the line of the military-intelligence complex.
- What is the impact of the society on such self-censorship?The obvious harm to Pakistani society is that the process of democratization which has been underway for more than a decade now has been effectively derailed. In general, the public loses out on an informed debate on critical social and national issues. Criticism, when not tolerated harms public discourse and chances of increasing state accountability which a free media can do.
- Do you feel there is any way out for journalists to not censor? What will happen if you, your team member, colleagues etc. do not self-censor?For it to happen, safeguards for journalists need to be built into the media ecosystem. More than legal frameworks, journalists have to show unity themselves which has been missing. When I was attacked in 2014, rival media houses did not care to highlight the issue. And after that when Hamid Mir was attacked, they declared him as a traitor while he was recovering. A disunited media industry is an ideal environment for exerting controls. And today this is what’s happening with short sighted businessmen who own most of the media outlets.
- Do you think the current wave of self-censorship in the media is a result of direct threats or perceived threats? Both are at work. But the fear of reprisal by a state or non-state actor is an intense reality for many. Even I don’t want to face the same situation as I plan to return to Pakistan and at least start spending time there.
- Do you think the environment to self-censor is related to this year being an election 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?Elections and the imperative of influencing their outcome by the establishment is a major factor at work. However, the danger is that once such an environment is created, it is likely to continue even after the elections. And have a controlled democracy. This is the most troubling side of things.