This week’s edition of The Students’ Herald is dedicated to those journalists who risk their lives in pursuit of the truth. We at The Students’ Herald recognise the unprecedented challenge facing journalists today; media workers across the country face gruelling pressures from not just their employers, but also the state. Many workers at newspapers and television channels have not been paid their salaries for months. Others have been downsized en masse; and others have been silenced as controls on free speech continue to tighten. At the same time, ‘red lines’ for journalists have constantly been shifting, and raising questions about official policies is no longer possible.
This moment may be unprecedented, but it is not unfamiliar. Pakistani journalists have been working in difficult conditions for decades. They have witnessed first-hand how narratives are imposed on people by dictatorial regimes. General Ayub Khan’s regime banned many newspapers and magazines for being “communistic.” In General Zia’s era, the media was controlled and guided under the narrative of ‘Islamisation.’ Sometimes it is national security; the narrative changes but the effects and results remain the same, and the state’s need to control the media has only grown. The repressive apparatus is unable to contain dissent and it cannot afford to expose its true form to the people.
Some media houses faced a crackdown in various forms over the previous year. Financial troubles led to the firing of thousands of media workers. Some of them are facing corruption and other charges. Their arrests have also attracted concerns of the international community. Supply of certain newspapers, which fell out of favour with the ruling dispensation, was restricted as hawkers were threatened. Cable operators were forced to move news channels which displeased the ruling order from their usual spots to confuse viewers. A coordinated squeeze from top to bottom has reached the point where even bloggers and web channels are being threatened. This intimidation is found in all layers of media in Pakistan. This is why Pakistan ranks 142 out among 180 countries in the Press Freedom Index.
This crisis has exposed the limitations of capitalist media. Because their sole purpose of existence is to make profits, media owners have no regard for the average worker employed in his company. Neither is he committed to any political ideology, and will be happy to push any narrative as long as it continues to keep him in good books of the current dispensation. Even gatherings and processions of mainstream political parties have been blacked out of electronic media and there has been no coverage of other emerging social movements. Journalists who dare to do their duties sincerely have seen to be intimidated at various levels, ranging from state institutions to mobs. There were 91 recorded cases of physical or verbal attacks on journalists previous year – 11 were attempted murder.
The Students’ Herald was founded in this moment of crisis and we believe that press freedoms are a measure of a free society. We are aware that the truth that is conveyed to the public through mainstream media is warped and twisted. We recognise the need to build and strengthen new independent platforms which are free from corporate and state pressures, so that the public can gain access to the full truth – not just a carefully curated version of the truth. This edition of TSH carries articles on topics which have not been mentioned in the mainstream media. We have an obituary of Sajid Hussain, a journalist who went missing and later found dead; we have an interview of Murtaza Solangi – a top journalist who was taken off air as curbs on free speech grew. We also have an article on sedition and the right to free speech, and much more.
We hope you will enjoy this edition of The Students’ Herald which aims to reclaim some of our lost freedoms.