A global media monitoring group said the climate for press freedom in Pakistan is deteriorating and accused the country's powerful military of "quietly, but effectively" encouraging "self-censorship."
In a report released Wednesday, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), said its findings are based on interviews with journalists during a mission to Pakistan this year. They "painted a picture of a media under siege," CPJ noted.
The research, however, noted a drop in murders and violence against journalists in Pakistan, which, until recently, had been condemned as one of the deadliest for reporters.
"While the decline in the killing of journalists is encouraging, the government needs to counteract pressures that have resulted in rampant self-censorship and threats to the media," said CPJ Asia Program Coordinator Steven Butler.
"The military bars access to certain areas, uses direct and indirect acts of intimidation, and even allegedly instigates violence against reporters to prevent critical reporting," the report noted.
Violent attacks in the past decade in Pakistan have killed 22 media workers.The military and intelligence agencies, or military-linked political groups have been a suspected source of fire in half the fatal attacks on journalists.
The CPJ called on Pakistan to address "the disturbing trend of impunity and attacks on journalists to shore up this faltering pillar of democracy."
The report quoted senior editors and journalists as privately telling CPJ researchers that conditions for the free press are as bad as when journalists were flogged and newspapers closed when the country was under military dictatorship.
The monitoring group said it had submitted, via email, a detailed request to army spokesman Major General Asif Ghafoor for his comment on the report, but he did not answer nor agree to meet the CPJ mission while it was visiting Pakistan.
While there was no immediate reaction from the Pakistani army to the CPJ's assertions, Major-General Ghafoor has previously rejected as baseless and politically motivated accusations his institution is curbing media freedom in the country.
The new Pakistan government, which took office nearly a month ago, has pledged to defend free media. Federal Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry has stated his government does not believe in censorship.
"The freedom gained by media during past few decades is a landmark achievement, which is unique in third world countries," he said at a recent news conference.