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Press Not Free in Pakistan

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By Khalid Hassan

Washington: Freedom House, which monitors the sate of freedom around the world every year, has placed Pakistan among countries where the press is “Not Free.”

According to Freedom House which released the survey this week, “Pakistan dropped from Partly Free to Not Free because of increased official harassment of journalists and media outlets, in addition to passage of a bill that increased penalties for defamation. The moves followed other aggressive measures taken over the last two years by military authorities to silence critical or investigative voices in the media. A number of journalists have been pressured to resign from prominent publications, charged with sedition, or arrested and intimidated by intelligence officials while in custody.” Only two countries - Pakistan and Kenya - registered a negative category shift in 2004, moving from Partly Free to Not Free. Pakistan was also among countries where Freedom House said “notable setbacks” had taken place. Others so listed were Kenya, Mexico, Venezuela, and in the United States itself.

While press freedom registered important gains in some key countries in 2004, notable setbacks occurred in the United States and elsewhere in the Americas, according to the study.

Increased restrictions were also detected in parts of Asia, Africa, and the former Soviet Union. The study - Freedom of the Press 2005: A Global Survey of Media Independence - revealed that gains outnumbered setbacks, as measured by shifts among the survey’s three main categories: free, partly free and not free. Improvements took place in countries where new democratic openings have been achieved or are burgeoning, such as in Ukraine and Lebanon. Several countries in the Middle East showed positive trends.

While the United States remained one of the strongest performers in the survey, its numerical score declined due to a number of legal cases in which prosecutors sought to compel journalists to reveal sources or turn over notes or other material they had gathered in the course of investigations. Additionally, doubts concerning official influence over media content emerged with the disclosures that several political commentators received grants from federal agencies, and that the Bush administration had significantly increased the practice of distributing government-produced news segments.

Out of the 194 countries and territories examined, 75 (39 percent) were rated Free, while 50 (26 percent) were rated Partly Free and 69 (35 percent) were rated Not Free.

According to the survey, five countries improved in category while two declined. In addition to Ukraine and Lebanon, Guatemala and Guinea-Bissau moved from Not Free to Partly Free, while Namibia moved from Partly Free to Free. The five worst rated countries in 2004 were Burma, Cuba, Libya, North Korea, and Turkmenistan. In these states, independent media are either non-existent or barely able to operate, the role of the press is reduced to serving as a mouthpiece for the ruling regime, and citizens’ access to unbiased information is severely limited, Freedom House said.

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