Partial delivery on promises is nothing to be proud of especially when it comes to the safety of journalists in Pakistan. The Institute for Research, Development and Advocacy (Irada), in its ten-year review of the ‘UN plan of action on safety of journalists and the issue of impunity in Pakistan (2012-2022)’, reveals that Pakistan has partially delivered on promises to protect its journalist community. Even that achievement has a distinct mark of the efforts that civil society, media, and the UN put in during the past 10 years. Now Pakistan needs to implement new laws to ensure that perpetrators of attacks on journalists do not get away scot-free with impunity. The review recommends that the government make sure all attackers face accountability. It is worth recalling that the 2012 UN plan of action has served as a guiding document that urges all member states and stakeholders to protect journalists. For the implementation of the plan, Pakistan became one of the five pilot countries selected in 2013.
After nearly a decade of consistent advocacy by civil society and media, the government of Pakistan enacted a special law to protect journalists. This law has become an ideal example of how through advocacy a law commits the government to use the best practices of the UN plan of action. The crimes committed against journalists must not go unchecked and a mechanism to combat impunity must be in place. The research undertaken to complete this review has resulted in an evaluation that quantifies the level of performance Pakistan has shown while implementing the plan of action. The findings show that journalists’ safety indicators are still low even after parliament passed the law. Some positive developments also took place as some significant actions are likely to have short to medium-term implications. Given that the country achieved an overall score of 1.64 on a scale of 0 to 3, it is disappointing to note that Pakistan’s slightly better performance in some directions has not been translated into an end to impunity or even in any substantial reduction in it.
Attacks on journalists have been taking place with a certain regularity – without any resolution. The fact that the Arshad Sharif murder case is still unresolved and still murky gives us a lot to think about when it comes to safety of journalists in the country. Granted that he was skilled abroad, the fact is that nothing in the state of Pakistan is of much consolation to journalists practising their craft. One hopes that with its suo-motu notice, the Supreme Court can help this case reach some clarity. Meanwhile, the legal framework that is in place now for the protection of journalists at the federal level and in Sindh must serve as a role model for other provinces. Such commissions are necessary in all provinces so that they can create deterrence against attacks on journalists. Then there is also the question of investigation and prosecution that fails on many counts; they are neither effective nor efficient. Overall, we may have come some way in trying to protect our journalists but we are nowhere near a point where a journalist can strive to do their job without fear of being attacked in the process – and then not getting justice either.