Human Rights

Pakistan’s Upcoming Elections Put Press Freedom at Risk

PPF annual report highlights need for concrete actions to ensure media safety and free expression during the political transition

Pakistan’s 2023 general elections are quickly approaching, and the charged political climate has already had a detrimental impact on the country’s media and freedom of expression. According to a recent report by the Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF) released on World Press Freedom Day, journalists and media professionals are likely to face increased violence leading up to the elections.

The PPF report recommends immediate action to ensure the safety of journalists and media professionals during the political transition. Specifically, it recommends the formation of the Commission for the Protection of Journalists and Other Media Professionals by the federal government.

The report also highlights the importance of implementing federal and provincial-level acts, including the Protection of Journalists and Media Professionals Act of 2021 and the Sindh Protection of Journalists and Other Media Practitioners Act of 2021, to increase accountability and reduce violence against the media.

The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) must also review and revise its Code of Conduct for the media to provide unambiguous measures to ensure the safety of journalists and media professionals reporting on the elections.

The report suggests excluding any sections that restrict media coverage from the Code of Conduct for National Media. The ECP must also revise its Code of Conduct for Political Parties to hold them accountable for media safety and require them to share their plans for media safety during their electioneering events.

Furthermore, the report recommends that the ECP assign specific responsibility to political parties to ensure effective measures for media safety are in place during their electioneering events.

The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) must not encourage censorship or limit free speech, and critical issues or incidents must be broadcast without fear of reprisal or prohibition orders.

Digital and social media platforms may become sources of information overload during election cycles. The media must ensure accurate and verified coverage, and any measures to increase regulation of these platforms or suspend internet access, as observed previously, are unacceptable. Free expression across all media platforms is essential for a free and fair election in a democracy.

Journalists and media professionals must be permitted to work without fearing legal reprisals, lengthy cases, or arrests. Registration of cases and initiating criminal proceedings against journalists or media persons encourage self-censorship through intimidation. The report recommends that media organisations provide safety training and equipment for journalists, and evaluate the safety risk to journalists regularly.

Protecting the safety of journalists and media professionals is crucial to providing the public with accurate and impartial information and conducting a democratic process freely and fairly. The PPF report serves as a call to action for immediate measures to ensure media safety and freedom of expression leading up to Pakistan’s 2023 general elections.

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