May 3 is World Press Freedom Day, and according to Amnesty International, journalists in Pakistan face grave dangers from that country’s intelligence agencies, as well as militant groups like the Taliban. At the same time, the Pakistani government is moving against one of the country’s major news channels, accusing it of broadcasting what it calls “false” and “scandalous” reports.
Thirty-four journalists have been killed in Pakistan since 2008 -- making it one of the most dangerous countries for reporting. In a report released this week
, Amnesty International says journalists face threats from the country’s intelligence services, political groups and militant groups like the Taliban.
The independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan is echoing the report, raising concerns about journalists’ safety in the country.
I.A. Rehman, the Commission's chairman, said, "We have already pointed out that 11 journalists were killed in Pakistan in 2013. So, we are extremely concerned and we feel that journalists are at risk in Pakistan and they are not receiving the protection that they not only as journalists, but citizens of this state deserve."
The latest attack on a journalist came in April, when prominent reporter and talk show host Hamid Mir was shot six times by unknown gunmen. Mir survived the attack and his brother claimed that Mir suspects the Pakistani intelligence agency ISI of planning to kill him. Geo News, the channel Mir works for, repeatedly aired the accusation and blamed the ISI and its chief for the attack.
A large section of Pakistani society, including other media outlets, objected to Geo's reporting of the allegations and accused it of irresponsible journalism and trying to undermine the country’s security forces.
While he could not comment specifically on Geo’s reporting, VOA’s Executive Editor Steve Redisch said it is important for a news organization to be careful with such charges.
"Before broadcasting any kind of allegations that are sensational, that have impact on national security, they have to be carefully and properly vetted before going out and broadcasting what could be damaging information," he said.
Though Geo has since softened its criticism, its accusations led the Pakistani Ministry of Defense to file a complaint seeking to cancel the channel’s license, a move that could shut it down. Redisch disagrees with that approach.
"Radio stations, television stations, newspapers, magazines have the freedom of expression, freedom of speech, freedom of the press," he said. "I do not believe that any of them should be banned from publication, banned from the airwaves. It is really about how the audience perceives those stations and whether or not trusts the information that is given."
Experts in Washington -- both in and out of journalism -- say press freedom also demands responsible journalistic practices. But they say if a news outlet fails to live up to those standards, shutting it down is not the right solution.