Freedom of the Press
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Press Freedom Score (0 = best, 100 = worst)
Legal Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Political Environment(0 = best, 40 = worst)
Economic Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Status change explanation: Pakistan's rating dropped from Partly Free to Not Free to reflect increased harassment of journalists and media outlets by authorities as well as the passage of a bill that increased penalties for defamation.
The Pakistani media faced increased pressure from the government on a variety of fronts in 2004. The constitution and other laws authorize the government to curb freedom of speech on subjects including the constitution, the armed forces, the judiciary, and religion. Harsh blasphemy laws have also been used in past years to suppress the media; however, in November the Peshawar High Court overturned the July 2003 blasphemy conviction and life sentence handed down to Frontier Post copy editor Munawar Mohsin Ali. In a setback for press freedom, in August the lower house of parliament passed the controversial Defamation (Amendment) Bill, which expands the definition of defamation and increases the punishment for offenders to minimum fines of Rs. 100,000 (approximately US$1,700) and/or prison sentences of up to five years. On several occasions, General Pervez Musharraf and other members of his administration have contributed to an atmosphere that is inimical to free speech by making public threats against or derogatory comments about specific members of the press.
Over the past two years, military authorities have used increasingly aggressive tactics to silence critical or investigative voices in the media. A number of journalists have been pressured to resign from prominent publications, charged with sedition, or arrested and intimidated by intelligence officials while in custody, while media outlets have been shut down. Khawar Mehdi Rizvi, a freelance journalist who was detained in December 2003 while accompanying two French reporters near the Pakistan-Afghan border and held incommunicado, was charged with sedition and conspiracy in January 2004; although a court ordered him released pending trial in March, he had fled the country by year's end. On numerous occasions, police or security forces subjected journalists to physical attacks, intimidation, or arbitrary arrest. Foreign journalists experience visa and travel restrictions that can inhibit their scope of reporting and are subject to arrest and deportation if found in areas not covered by the terms of their visas. Both foreign and local correspondents were prevented from covering the Pakistan army's offensive against militants in the South Waziristan region at various times throughout the year. Islamic fundamentalists, other extremist groups, and thugs hired by feudal landlords or local politicians continue to harass journalists and attack or bomb newspaper offices; and Sajid Tanoli, a writer for a regional daily, was killed by the mayor of the northern town of Mansehra in January as a result of his reporting.
While some journalists practice self-censorship, a plethora of privately owned daily and weekly newspapers and magazines provides diverse and critical coverage of national affairs. Although restrictions on the ownership of broadcast media were eased in late 2002 and media cross-ownership was allowed in July 2003, most electronic media are state owned and follow the government line. Several new private cable and satellite television channels provide live news coverage and a wider variety of political viewpoints, but private radio stations are prohibited from broadcasting news programming. The Web site of an online newspaper established abroad by exiled editor Shaheen Sehbai was blocked sporadically by Pakistani telecommunications authorities, while some journalists' e-mail accounts were reportedly monitored. Authorities wield some economic influence over the media through the selective allocation of advertising, and both official and private interests reportedly pay for favorable press coverage. Local and international advocacy groups condemned the government's decision to withhold advertising from two major newspapers in the Nawa-e-Waqt publishing group for several months during the year, and another independent newspaper was subject to the same treatment in July.