Journalists surrender to silence in Pakistan Self-censorship makes many Pakistani Journalists feel safer. Image: courtesy of Media Matters for Democracy, Pakistan.

Journalists surrender to silence in Pakistan

As many as 88% of Pakistani journalists self-censor themselves in their professional work and are likely to hold back information related to religious and security matters in their reporting and personal conversations, newly released data show.

These are some of the findings of a study titled “Surrendering to Silence: An Account of Self-censorship among Pakistani Journalist”, conducted by Media Matters for Democracy (MMfD) and launched on May 3, 2018, the World Press Freedom Day. MMfD is a member of the Association for Progressive Communications – a global network, working to empower and support civil society organisations, social movements and individuals in and through the use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) to build strategic communities and initiatives for the purpose of making meaningful contributions to equitable human development, social justice, participatory political processes and environmental sustainability.

Most of the Pakistani journalists who participated in the study considered the policies of their own news organisations as a major reason for their professional self-censorship. Self-censorship has become a “disturbingly noticeable trend” in the Pakistani media but the details of the issue had largely been unexplored, MMfD Programs Director Sadaf Khan said.

The research is based on a survey of 156 journalists from around the country. The respondents represented national, local, and foreign news organizations. The sample covered all types of media (print, broadcast, digital) and several regional languages in addition to Urdu and English. The purpose of the study was to map perceptions about self-censorship in the Pakistani media. “Our aim is to create a baseline that can help understand the issue of self-censorship in Pakistani media better”, Khan explained.

“Surrendering to Silence: An Account of Self-censorship among Pakistani Journalist”, a report by Media Matters for Democracy (MMfD), launched on May 3, 2018, on the occasion of the World Press Freedom Day.

The study painted a grim picture of press freedom in Pakistan. Pakistani journalists work in an environment that makes self-censorship difficult to avoid, it concluded. Around 88% of the respondents had performed self-censorship at least once in their reporting, and nine in every 10 respondents also said they had seen their news colleagues commit self-censorship. Around 72% thought self-censorship had increased over time in the Pakistani media.

Nearly 86% of the study’s respondents could not think of reporting without self-censorship because of the prevailing conditions in the country. Almost two in three respondents had been threatened or attacked for their expression, and seven in every 10 respondents said self-censorship made them feel safer.

Pakistani journalists exercise self-censorship in personal settings, too. Around 79% of participating journalists claimed they committed self-censorship in their personal online activity. Exactly half the number of respondents also practices personal self-censorship offline, MMfD’s study reveals.

The journalists were mostly cautious around strangers and acquaintances on social media and real life. Journalists perceive the policies of their own news organizations as major hurdles in the way of free expression. Eight in 10 respondents blamed the policies of their own news organizations as the reason for self-censorship. This could indicate an organizational culture of self-censorship creeping into the Pakistani press. The other reasons identified by a majority of respondents included sensitive nature of information, national interest, threats of legal action, and threats of physical harm.

Nine in 10 journalists in Pakistan would self-censor personal speech on religion

Respondents admitted they were most likely to self-censor information and opinions about the military and religion in their professional work and personal conversations. Around 64% and 62% respondents were most likely to self-censor information about the security establishment and religion in professional interactions respectively. Nine in 10 respondents said they would self-censor personal speech due to religious sensitivities.

Not all journalists are aware of securing digital communication but most are interested in knowing more One-third of the respondents did not know how to use encryption. However, nearly 80% of the journalists said they would like to know more about keeping their digital communication safe. Popular self-censorship mitigation strategy identified by survey respondents offers encouragement for collaboration and editorial support Only around half of all respondents said they had used a strategy to circumvent professional self-censorship, but one of the top mitigation strategies picked by them was sharing information with other reporters to ensure the news gets reported in one way or another.

The study  urges the media organizations and representative trade unions of journalists to put up a united front against self-censorship, conduct safety training for journalists, and develop transparency in their professional work. The report calls upon the government and political parties to help end impunity in crimes against journalists and embrace press freedom in their political culture. For civil society organizations, the report recommends more research on self-censorship trends, advocacy about press freedom, and creation of training opportunities for journalists.

At least 71 journalists and media workers have lost their lives since 2001 while pursuing their duties in Pakistan, the Pakistani Press Foundation reported back in 2015. Of these, 47 had been deliberately targeted and murdered for practicing their profession, while others were killed while covering dangerous assignments, PPF’s report said.  In only two cases had the perpetrators been convicted by court.

The report “Surrendering to Silence: An Account of Self-censorship among Pakistani Journalist” by Media Matters for Democracy (MMfD) could be found at  <>.

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This journalistic article was published as a part of the project “Remembering Europe: Civil Society Under Pressure Again”, implemented by the BlueLink Foundation with co-funding from the EU’s Europe for Citizens Programme. No responsibility for the content of this articice could in any way be attributed to the Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency and the European Commission. All responsibility for the content lies with the BlueLink Foundation.