Sadly, the state of freedom of expression in Pakistan has not improved in the last many years. The recent report of Reporters Without Borders has ranked Pakistan’s state of freedom of expression and tolerance at 139 out of 161 countries reviewed by this prestigious organisation. If there is any solace, India is ranked 138 in this list. Most of the free press is in Norway, Sweden and Denmark — all countries that follow social democracy. As fresh elections approach and the ‘miltestablishment’ hectically tries to politically engineer the results of the election, pressure on the media has increased.As always, the questions being raised are: Should there be any limit to press freedom? Is press freedom possible without an independent judiciary? Let’s examine these two questions. The issue of limiting press freedom through media specific laws is often raised by people who are either from the privileged ruling classes or are still not ready to accept democratic values. There is little understanding even among some journalists that freedom of the press flows from freedom of expression, which in turn is only possible in a democratic society. The reason I have stressed the word society is that respect for freedom of expression is not just a political issue; it is an all encompassing social and economic issue as well.World Press Freedom Day will be internationally celebrated on 3rd May. Years of struggle by journalists, civil society and democratic forces has done little to force the ruling establishment of Pakistan to accept a free media. Privately owned channels are facing more pressure from the establishment and Islamist non-state actors. There are now new ways to control the media through bribing and influencing private sector channels’ owners and leading anchors. The owners of these private channels have bigger stakes and therefore easy to be squeezed. For working journalists the government has many types of bait. A few years back leading TV host Hamid Mir wrote in his column in Jang that many journalists are bought over. Since he is a well-informed journalist I was impressed that the price of a journalist had gone as high as Rs 150 million. Middle class journalists, who resist these temptations even when one disagrees with them, should be respected.Often such channels are seen only maligning politicians or civil bureaucracy. Freedom is limited. Don’t go by rash and at times libellous news items and views expressed by journalists against the government, and conclude look how free they are. It is hard to find independent anchors and analysts on electronic media. Print media is by and large free when it comes to the government. Usual practice is that if the government does not like anybody it cuts down on government ads to that publication. But here too, unofficially, pressure is exerted on owners and editors to apply self censorship when it comes to criticising perfidious political engineering by the powers that be.While PML-N is facing the wrath of the establishment and judiciary for its numerous follies, PTI is the beneficiary of the ongoing political engineering and biased reportingBut this is only a part of the picture. Governments are becoming more tolerant in developing societies because of the rise of democratic forces internally, foreign pressures and emergence of technology, which cannot be tamed. The most recent example is of the establishment failing to curb the narrative of the Pashtun/Pakhtun Tahafuz Movement — PTM. The movement still gathered momentum and got support from the civil society simply by an effective social media campaign. However, academic institutions such as Habib University and LUMS were pressured to not let PTM leaders share their views on their campuses. The administrations of these universities were under pressure to cancel the events, which were planned to give PTM a platform to raise their just demands; so much so for academic freedom in the country. On the other hand the bigots of TLP were allowed to block the Faizabad Interchange in Islamabad and Mall Road in Lahore to the inconvenience of citizens. They were patted on their backs by officials in uniform, the same ones who guaranteed them their agreement.Another example is that of banning Geo in the Cantonment and Defence Housing societies. This channel can still be streamed live through the internet. However, reports are that Jang Group has finally succumbed to the pressures of the establishment. The rising threat to media is from extremist, religious and ethnic groups, fascistic political parties, crime world, tribal and landed class goons and big business’ advertising clout.Many journalists have been killed in the FATA area covering the Taliban conflict with the army. In Sindh journalists who reported excesses of big landlords and tribal leaders have been killed or implicated in false cases. In Balochistan journalists are intimidated by nationalist militants and intelligence agencies.This rising trend of fascistic forces takes us to a larger issue of ‘Freedom of Expression,’ which is linked to overall democratic values in a society. It is lack of understanding that tolerance of another person’s views is the basics of a democratic culture. The trouble is that we crib, we sulk, and we protest angrily and disperse. The political parties, which should be defending freedom of press more rigorously, have not played their role effectively. While PML-N is facing the wrath of the establishment and judiciary for its political and personal follies, PTI is the beneficiary of political engineering and biased media. It is not in their interest to raise the issue of freedom of expression at this stage. PPP is opportunistically trying to gain the favour of the establishment. They think that their pro-establishment stance would keep the NAB guns away from them.The writer is a freelance journalist and author of What’s wrong with Pakistan? E-mail: email@example.comPublished in Daily Times, May 1st 2018.