By Beena Sarwar
"The media in Pakistan has never been freer." This
is something one hears repeated by government functionaries, by
ordinary people, Pakistanis visiting from overseas, foreigners...
And it's great for Pakistan's image.
But is it true? Certainly, we are far removed from the times
of overt censorship. The Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah's August
11, 1947 speech to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan, in which
he talked about freedom of religion, is no longer censored, as
it was for years. Nor is this the Zia era, with its terse 'press
advices' and blank spaces in newspaper columns denoting the areas
from where editors removed censored articles or editorials in
quiet protest. Journalists are not flogged anymore, as some brave
souls were on May 13, 2020 - Khawar Naeem Hashmi, Iqbal Jaffri
and Nasir Zaidi(Masudullah Khan was exempted at the last minute
on health grounds), nor are newspapers forced to shut down.
This is not the Nawaz Sharif era, where old tax cases were dug
out and used against a major media group and newsprint supplies
withheld, almost forcing it to suspend publication -- because
it was about to bring out a private television channel that the
rulers did not want; where a journalist and activist like Zafaryab
Ahmed was charged for sedition for speaking out against child
labour (speaking out was against 'national interest', not the
child labour itself). Editor Najam Sethi was imprisoned for making
'anti-Pakistan' remarks on 'enemy territory', while a certain
Dr Maleeha Lodhi was barred from writing, and an outspoken columnist
like Imtiaz Alam had his car burnt right outside his residence
But wait a minute. Wasn't the car of another outspoken reporter
burnt outside his residence, also in Lahore? It happened during
this government's tenure, on November 22, 2003, accompanied by
aerial firing. And hasn't he also been barred from writing in
the publication he worked for?
The reporter is Amir Mir. And his trials are far from over.
The Pakistani media largely has ignored his plight. Some journalists
feel that he has 'deserved' what he got. But can such tactics
justified? Certainly Amir, middle son of the late respected scholar
Waris Mir, has followed up on issues that it's 'safer' not to
touch. But if journalists only report on what the establishment
wants them to, no government corruption would ever be exposed
I've known Amir since the time he started reporting at The Frontier
Post in Lahore, in 1989, while still a student at Government College;
I was Features Editor. He soon established himself as an upright,
hardworking, and fiery reporter; he later worked with The News,
then went on to become editor of a weekly independent journal,
where he continued exposing corruption and dubious alliances.
One time, two men with revolvers got into his car and tried,
unsuccessfully, to make him go with them. At one point he was
forced to go abroad for his own safety -- he could have stayed
there and applied for political asylum like so many others, but
he is not one to run away. And he didn't.
However, in June 2003, he was forced to quit under 'government
pressure'. But a mainstream media house approached him in his
hour of need and he joined their monthly magazine. Now, he finds
himself jobless again, for the third time since the year 2000.
He has had to resign.
He believes it was his reports and especially his book, 'The
True Face of Jehadis', which explored the post-9/11 state of jehad
and the jehadi organisations and their links with the intelligence
agencies that invited the wrath of the establishment. Amir says
he has been intensively questioned, by people wanting to update
Amir subsequently wrote a letter to his management appraising
it of the development, This time, he found little support. He
was barred from writing and his name was taken off the masthead
in December 2004 although he was retained on the pay roll -- for
He says a senior officer of the Press Information Department
(PID) called him on June 2, 2005, saying that the European Union
had taken up the issue of his continued harassment by the intelligence
agencies with the Pakistan government which wanted a written statement
denying the harassment charges. "I refused, saying that I
have neither lodged any such complaint nor will I deny the harassment
charges. A few days later, I was asked by the management to try
my luck somewhere else. I subsequently submitted my resignation."
He remains thankful to the group for hiring him at a time when
"no other newspaper was ready to give me a job." But
he is again in the same situation.
I.A. Rehman, long time journalist, former Editor of the Pakistan
Times and now Director of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan,
finds parallels in Amir's situation with the journalist Zohair
Siddiqui in the 1960s, who found all avenues closed for him after
the outspoken Civil and Military Gazette where he worked was shut
down. The government ensured that no other newspaper hired him,
and he found himself either unemployed or forced to take up public
One would hope that today, under a government that prides itself
on allowing a free media and repeatedly states its commitment
to freedom of expression, Amir Mir will not be forced to take
the same road.