Press Freedom is a combination of two words symbolizing the advancement of the human race.
I recall reading the pages of history books about rulers spreading information only if it were favorable to them and hearing only what they wanted to hear, both in East and West. The press was used by the rulers to manipulate the ruled.
Rulers still do this, of course, or at least try to, but in many places the sacrifices and efforts of countless people known and unknown have produced societies where the ruled have a voice and the rulers must listen to them.
In Pakistan, a young country born only 66 years ago, we had a single government-owned television channel for most our existence that served up propaganda from both autocratic democratic governments and dictatorial army generals. There were journalists who tried to speak the truth or offer opposing opinions, and they were heavily punished for it.
The advent of multiple private channels within the past decade has revolutionized journalism in Pakistan. Yet, the challenges remain. A number of channels were shut down in minutes in 2007 under the orders of former military ruler Pervez Musharaff. Private media outlets again were silenced in 2008 under a “democratic” regime. Still, press freedom is strengthening as the media keep pushing to roll back the old rules – despite the growth of a new threat to journalists: violent extremists.
I remain hopeful that the press in Pakistan can mobilize against threats old and new and become as free as the press I’ve been seen in the United States during my posting this summer with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The press here seems not at all afraid to report anything they want and express their views. There are widely varying opinions about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, for instance, and the opponents of government policy get plenty of attention. The president and his cabinet are aggressively questioned and often sharply criticized — without fear of repercussions.
This holds true for local politicians, too. We are nearing the end a mayoral election campaign in Pittsburgh, and the press regularly uncovers information unfavorable to the candidates and feels free to find fault with them. In Pakistan, critical reporters or commentators could expect, at the least, having rumors spread about their motives and, at the worst, being physically attacked.