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)
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Although the already outspoken Pakistani media have grown more diverse, they continue to face a range of pressures, harassment, and attacks from both the government and other sources, all of which intensified during 2006. The constitution and other laws such as the Official Secrets Act 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. In April, the Supreme Court reaffirmed a sentence of life imprisonment imposed on Rehmat Shah Afridi, former editor of the Frontier Post and Maidan dailies, who had been arrested on alleged drug-trafficking charges in 1999; Afridi continues to declare his innocence. The controversial Defamation (Amendment) Act, passed in 2004, expanded the definition of defamation and increased the punishment for offenders to minimum fines of 100,000 rupees (approximately US$1,700) and/or prison sentences of up to five years; however, this legislation has not yet been used to convict members of the press. A bill that would allow the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) to ban broadcast outlets in the name of “vulgarity” or “national security” and provides for large fines or prison terms for violators was passed by the lower house of Parliament in 2005 but lapsed before being brought before the Senate and was enacted. The PEMRA did temporarily shut down or ban access to several television and radio stations during the year, including two Afghanistan–based broadcasters in March. On a number of 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. Government plans to establish a new body called the Press and Publication Regulatory Authority, which would supersede existing self-regulatory mechanisms, were criticized by local and international watchdog groups.
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 or charged with sedition, while media outlets have been shut down. On numerous occasions, police, security forces, and military intelligence officials subjected journalists to physical assaults, intimidation, torture, and arbitrary arrest and detention, with some reporters being held for several months at a time. Islamic fundamentalists and thugs hired by feudal landlords or local politicians continue to harass journalists and attack newspaper offices. Several press clubs were also attacked. Reporters in Sindh province faced threats and attacks from local-level authorities and political or tribal figures during the year. In total, more than 100 such instances were reported throughout 2006.
As in 2005, conditions for reporters covering the ongoing unrest in the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan were particularly difficult during the year, with a number of local and foreign correspondents detained, threatened, or otherwise prevented from covering events there, both by the Taliban and local tribal groups or by the army and intelligence services. Reporter Hayatullah Khan, who had been abducted near his home in the semiautonomous North Waziristan tribal region in December 2005, was found dead in June 2006; intelligence agencies were suspected of being involved in the murder. Unknown assailants seized Dilawar Khan, a reporter for the British Broadcasting Corporation’s Urdu service based in South Waziristan, in November, in order to interrogate him regarding his news sources. In a chilling trend, the child siblings of both men were also killed, apparently to threaten the journalists and their families. 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. In December, New York Times reporter Carlotta Gall was assaulted by military intelligence officers in Quetta; the assailants beat her, searched her hotel room and confiscated equipment, and for several hours detained the Pakistani photographer who was accompanying her. Conditions for media remain much more tightly restricted in Pakistani-administered Kashmir, where pro-independence publications are refused permission to operate.
While some journalists practice self-censorship, many privately owned daily and weekly newspapers and magazines provide diverse and critical coverage of national affairs. Authorities attempt to 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. The government continues to control Pakistan Television and Radio Pakistan, the only free broadcast outlets with a national reach, where coverage supports official viewpoints. Private radio stations operate in some major cities but are prohibited from broadcasting news programming. In a positive change for the media landscape in recent years, a growing number of private cable and satellite television channels such as GEO and ARY, all of which broadcast from outside the country but are widely available, 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-level and national officials regularly use advertising boycotts to put economic pressure on publications that do not heed unofficial directives on coverage. Internews reported that at least 11 newspapers or magazines were denied state-sponsored advertising from public funds in 2006 for being critical of government policies.
The internet is not widely used, with less than 5 percent of the population able to gain access. Despite this, the government did invade online privacy by monitoring the e-mail accounts of some journalists. During 2006, authorities blocked access to certain websites, particularly those that concern Baluch nationalist issues, with several dozen blocked at various points during the year. In February, the decision of the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority to block access to the hosting site blogspot.com was met with protests from the expanding community of Pakistani bloggers as well as freedom of expression groups.