Editor-in-Chief & Publisher: MIR JAVED RAHMAN


UK RATINGS DIP IN WORLD PRESS FREEDOM INDEX


Issue Date 26 Aug - 01 Sept, 2017 at 2:00 PM

UK RATINGS DIP IN WORLD PRESS FREEDOM INDEX
For those of us who regard the UK as a bastion of press freedom there is a surprise. According to a new report by ‘Reporters Without Borders’ in an annual rating called the World Press Freedom Index, the UK stands at a lowly number 40 while the USA, the other bastion of press freedom in Pakistani eyes, stands at an even lower number 43. At the top of the list, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark lead the way followed by the Netherlands, Costa Rica, Switzerland, Jamaica, Belgium and Iceland. Austria, Estonia, New Zealand, Ireland and Germany were also among the countries which obtained a "good" rating.
The rating gives points for each impediment to press freedom, so the country with the lowest points stands first. Thus Norway stands at the top of the table with 7.60 points while the UK at number 40 has 22.26 points and the USA has 23.88 points at number 43.
Countries of the South Asian subcontinent feature much lower down the list, with India at number 136 with 42.94 points followed by Pakistan at number 139 with 43.55 points. Sri Lanka is close behind on number 141 with 44.34 points while Bangladesh is at number 146. The total number of countries featured in the list is 180.
The justification for the UK being so far down the list is ‘a worrying trend’ which has seen a ‘heavy handed approach’ being adopted often in the name of security. The report said that the Investigatory Powers Act which was adopted by Parliament last November had "insufficient protection mechanisms for whistleblowers, journalists and their sources, posing a serious threat to investigative journalism". At the bottom of the pile, countries such as Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam and China were identified as having a "very serious situation" regarding freedom of the press with Eritrea and North Korea being judged as the worst in the world.
Like many assessments made in and by the west, it seems as if quite a bit of the findings are based on perception and political likes and dislikes. For example, it is difficult to see how Afghanistan is ranked at number 120, far ahead of all four countries of the south Asian subcontinent, with Oman being close at number 126, also above all the south Asian countries. Kuwait is ranked above all of these countries at 104 with Uganda in between at 112. Perhaps a ranking emanating from south Asia would be very different, again based perhaps more on perception than anything else.
Having lived in the West for more than 40 years and having seen the Pakistani media develop over this time, it would perhaps be no exaggeration if I were to truly essay the opinion that the Pakistani media, especially the electronic media, does not appear to be in any way less free than the British media. That may as much a matter of praise as an indictment. In the West, freedom is automatically restricted by law, even more important, by the vigilant enforcement of the law. With not a single successful prosecution for libel in Pakistan’s 70 years, the laws that act as a safeguard for unrestricted media freedom – which is far from being a good thing – are virtually non-existent. Over here in the UK, the slightest of infringement, real or perceived, can lead to a lawyer’s letter on the editor’s desk and although few of these ‘notices’ ever lead to legal action in a court of law, the fact that you have to send a legal response and that there may be two or three such letters exchanged before life returns to normal, means that the publication, particularly a small one, has had to suffer a sizable financial hit in terms of lawyers’ charges.
Secondly, at least before Brexit, there used to be a very narrow range between which all admissible political opinion was contained. That was not through any external political pressure, but through a broad societal consensus. Anything outside of this narrow confine would not see the light of day in the print media. For example, back in the 1980s any piece even vaguely insinuating that English cricket umpires were not entirely fair and often pulled in favour of England, was considered such an outlandish thing to say that few papers, if any, would consider printing it. When in 1982, former Pakistan captain Asif Iqbal wrote after a rather contentious England-Pakistan series that summer that perhaps it was time to have neutral umpires, one cricket correspondent responded by saying that ‘the unspeakable had been spoken’. When the line for what is considered ‘unspeakable’ is so high, press freedom is automatically restricted. It may be added that there were not too many British dailies back then who were willing to carry the piece.
Perhaps it is mainly in this regard that the Pakistani media may be considered restricted, as societal convention has a fairly long list of subjects and opinions which are not considered acceptable for public discourse. But politics is certainly not one of them.




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