Pakistan | Freedom House

Freedom of the Press

Pakistan

Pakistan

Freedom of the Press 2006

2006 Scores

Press Status

Not Free

Press Freedom Score
(0 = best, 100 = worst)

61

Political Environment
(0 = best, 40 = worst)

25

Economic Environment
(0 = best, 30 = worst)

18

Although the already outspoken Pakistani media have grown more diverse, they continue to face a range of pressures and harassment from both the government and other sources. 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, and harsh blasphemy laws have also been used in past years to suppress the media. In August 2004, the lower house of Parliament passed the controversial Defamation (Amendment) Act, which expanded the definition of defamation and increased the punishment for offenders to minimum fines of Rs.100,000 (approximately US$1,700) and/or prison sentences of up to five years; however, this legislation has not yet been used against the press. A bill that would allow the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) to ban broadcast news outlets in the name of "vulgarity" or "national security" and provides for large fines or prison terms for violators passed in the lower house of Parliament in May, but lapsed before being brought before the Senate and was not enacted by year's end. On several occasions, General Pervez Musharraf and other members of his administration contributed to an atmosphere inimical to free speech by making public threats against or derogatory comments about specific members of the press.

Over the past several 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. On numerous occasions, police, security forces, and military intelligence subjected journalists to physical attacks, intimidation, or arbitrary arrest and incommunicado detention. Attacks occurred even on journalists who had gathered to march in support of media freedom on World Press Freedom Day in May. In July, following the London train bombings that were carried out by several British men of Pakistani descent, police raided the offices of several publications and arrested vendors selling newspapers deemed to be promoting religious hatred and disharmony; in August, the publication licenses of three of these periodicals were revoked. Islamic fundamentalists and thugs hired by feudal landlords or local politicians continue to harass journalists and attack newspaper offices.

During 2005, conditions for reporters covering the ongoing unrest in the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan became particularly difficult. In February, gunmen fired on a vehicle carrying reporters in South Waziristan, killing two journalists and injuring two others. Later in the year, reporter Hayatullah Khan was kidnapped in the semi-autonomous North Waziristan tribal region and remained missing at year's end. 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. In general, 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 specifically covered by the terms of their visas; a number of such cases have been reported in the past several years.

While some journalists practice self-censorship, many privately owned daily and weekly newspapers and magazines provide diverse and critical coverage of national affairs. Nevertheless, authorities wield some control over content by reportedly providing unofficial "guidance" to newspaper editors on suggested placement of front-page stories or permissible topics of coverage. Restrictions on the ownership of broadcast media were eased in late 2002 and media cross-ownership was allowed in July 2003, but most locally-based electronic media are state owned and follow the government line, and private radio stations are prohibited from broadcasting news programming. However, a growing number of new private cable or satellite television channels and radio channels, all of which broadcast from outside the country, provide live news coverage and a much wider variety of viewpoints than was previously available. 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. State and national officials use advertising boycotts to put economic pressure on publications that do not heed unofficial directives on coverage. In 2005, the most prominent example of this occurred in May, when a ban on official advertising was placed on two newspapers in the Nation group of publications, but also occurred at the provincial level in Sindh with papers in the Dawn group. The internet is not widely used, with less than 5 percent of the population able to gain access in 2005. Despite this, the government did take measures to curb online privacy by reportedly monitoring the e-mail accounts of numerous journalists. The website of an online newspaper established abroad by exiled editor Shaheen Sehbai was also blocked sporadically by Pakistani telecommunications authorities.