The first generation of contemporary media reforms in Pakistan, starting in 2002 when the airwaves were opened up for private ownership, brought about increase in media space (TV channels going up from 1 to nearly 100 and radio stations from 1 to about 150), increase in the number of media practitioners (from 2,000 journalists in 2002 to over 17,000 now) and increase in media pluralism (multi-national, multi-linguist, multi-ethnic media).
The second generation reforms are only now setting in with the emphasis of media evolution shifting from quantity to quality. Hence the general realization that carving out niches (as opposed to cloning oneself after the next media organization) and developing thematic expertise is growing within the media sector. This comes in the backdrop of a general slide into tabloidization that largely stems from inexperience as the average age of journalists has slumped from about 47 in 2002 to around 23 now. This has meant that journalists pay less attention to ethics and take more risks, and as a consequence face a myriad array of risks to their lives and work.
Exercising freedoms amidst violence
The rise of terrorism in Pakistan during the past decade has made the country one of the most dangerous countries on the planet to not just practice journalism but also to exercise the constitutionally guaranteed fundamental rights to freedom of expression and access to information. Over 90 journalists have been killed in the line of duty since 2000 and over 2,000 injured, kidnapped, arrested or harassed and intimidated in the same period. Over 40,000 civilians have been killed in terrorism and violence perpetrated by extremists and militants seeking a totalitarian society with dozens of human rights defenders also target killed for exercising the right to free expression by differing with the agenda of extremism.
There has been a lot of talk about how to reduce the risk to human rights defenders, journalists and development practitioners in Pakistan to make defending human rights and practicing journalism safer professions. However there are no training institutes in Pakistan or educational centers that can educate and train both human rights defenders and journalists in ethics and on techniques in keeping safe from harm. While there are some organizations in Pakistan that conduct some trainings for media but these are neither enough to cater to the needs of 17,000 journalists in Pakistan or thousands of human rights defenders in the development sector nor have the orientation, experience, exposure or capacity to undertake an exhaustive mandate to serve the needs of journalists and human rights defenders even as the media sector is rapidly evolving and the political transition taking place to a more democratic polity.
Defending the defenders of public interests
Under these circumstances, it is imperative to:
- Improve capacity of journalists and human rights defenders to practice safe work;
- Raise general awareness among the civil society about risks facing human rights defenders and journalists; and
- Establish and strengthen capacities to educate and train development sector practitioners, human rights defenders and journalists to become more professional
It is in this backdrop that it Freedom Network was established – an independent initiative to establish a platform for civil society, including media, dedicated to providing research, analysis, guidance, resources, education and training so that human rights defenders, development practitioners and media practitioners can do their job well.
In view of the changing dynamics of political transition, development agendas and rapid media evolution in Pakistan, Freedom Network seeks to serve as an independent watchdog to monitor and protect interests of civil society, development sector and media such as protecting the rights to freedom of expression and access to information, advocating for more representative laws for an enabling environment for development and media practitioners, training human rights defenders and journalists to be more professional, responsible and ethical and educating them to operate safely and securely in conflict and hostile environments in the country.