Roundtable – Freedom of Expression and Media Pluralism

Media persons and social activists put heads together to discuss freedom of expression in Pakistan

KARACHI: Journalists, student leaders, actors and social activists stressed the need for creating a joint social platform to protect freedom of expression in the country.

The views were expressed in an exclusive roundtable conference at Media Baithak, chaired by former Express Tribune Editor, Kamal Siddiqui. The participants of the conference included Nasir Baig Chughtai, Nusrat Haris, Nazish Brohi , GM Jamali, Farieha Aziz, Naghma Iqtidar and Samar Abbas.

“Papers can’t publish today what I had published as an editor a few years back,” said Siddiqui in the roundtable meeting. “Along with censorship on political developments, we also have to take into account commercial censorship being practiced in the media houses.”

Siddiqui expressed his concern over the self-censorship being observed by the journalists all across the newsrooms, adding that the journalists are not saying what they are supposed to say because they have already assumed that no one is going to publish what they have to say.

He said that censorship has become a global phenomenon and technology is being used to curtail freedom of speech, however, he maintained that social media is the new silver lining today. “It’s the last battlefield for freedom of speech,” he noted.

Senior journalist Nasir Baig Chughtai said that 2002-12 remained a golden period for the Pakistani mainstream media in terms of freedom of expression probably due to the strict mentorship practiced by the senior journalists.

He said that the downfall in the Pakistani media started when the media owners started taking editorial calls to protect their business interests and close relations with the power centers. “At the end of the day, it should be the journalist who is making that call,” he added.

PTV TV host, Nusrat Haris said that there are precedents of positive practices in the news media too as compared to the past the Pakistani media is now accepting enough to talk about breast cancer and Aids – issues which were considered taboo a few years back.

PFUJ President GM Jamali reiterated that solid the legislation is the need of the hour to protect media freedom in the country; he added that the news media has lost its significance in the course of time.

‘Though freedom of expression is a universal human right practiced in every society, it is done so within limits, but these limitations are vague’ reflected Najia Ashar, executive director Media Baithak.

Director Angeline Malik maintained that contrary to the popular narrative she is not seeing the revival of cinema in the near future because of the blurred lines of censorship. “We are scared we don’t know when and on what we will get notice. One can’t express fear.”

She said that child abuse is an important issue in the country but no artist is touching the topic because to put it on screen might ruffle feathers.

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