With news channels in Pakistan taking mainstream anchors off air, fears about the freedom of media have grown in the past few weeks. Anchors Nusrat Javed, Matiullah Jan and Murtaza Solangi have been laid off by their respective channels while Talat Hussain, who had been speaking about censorship woes, announced discontinuance of his show. The common factor among the anchors dismissed is their openness in criticism of the current government and establishment’s policies. While Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government’s blockade of advertisement funds to media houses and their subsequent financial crisis have been termed by some as the reason for the recent dismissals and downsizing in media, it is unclear as to why only critical voices are being shown the door. “Both financial crisis and censorship by the powers-that-be are the factors responsible for what is happening in media today,” said senior print and broadcast journalist Owaid Tohid. “Pakistan media’s financial model is a flawed one to begin with. You can’t demand freedom of press while being financially dependent on the government at the same time,” he says, adding that mainstream media has become hostage to corporate sector, as a result of which employees have to suffer. Tohid says as long as generating revenue from the corporate sector is the objective of media houses, real journalism cannot be done. He added that a committee comprising senior editors and journalists should be formed in order to develop a mechanism whereby media does not have to depend on government for financial stability. While commenting on the issue of censorship, he says media remains under threat from state and non-state actors and oftentimes journalists have no option but to practice self-censorship. About the terror threats to journalists, Tohid says hundreds of journalists lost their lives at the hands of terrorists and many were injured — all for reporting the truth. “But governments and the powers-that-be have been lenient towards these killers of journalists and other citizens,” he said. Tohid lamented that former Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP) spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan who used to threaten journalists directly was brought on television and presented as a ‘reformed’ person after he surrendered to the military. Further, Tohid says editors have now marked red lines and much of the journalistic work is marred by self-censorship. Tohid thinks there used to be some defiance from democratic forces in the face of censorship during dictatorial days, but there is currently no resistance against attempts to clampdown on free speech. Talking about the extent of self-censorship, he said the Supreme Court (SC) verdict acquitting blasphemy accused Aasia Bibi should have been welcomed and celebrated by the media, but it wasn’t given enough coverage. “Even after Prime Minister Imran Khan addressed the nation and defended the SC verdict, media remained hesitant to report facts about the judgement and the subsequent violent protests were not covered either. Tohid says the protest demonstrations and violence on the streets in the wake of the Aasia Bibi judgement should not have been blacked out my the media. “There is a difference between glorifying a protest and reporting facts. The way media has been hiding facts about the violent protests is also tantamount to self-censorship,” he says. The common factor among the mainstream anchors recently dismissed is their openness and criticism of the current government and establishment’s policies Senior journalist Iftikhar Ahmad disagrees with the notion that media faces censorship from the powers-that-be. He says media is free in Pakistan, but we seem to forget the responsibilities that come with that freedom. “If journalists practice caution while reporting the issues of sensitive nature, it shouldn’t be considered self-censorship.” Ahmad further says journalists have only themselves to blame for their financial crisis because a financial proposal was not agreed upon by media houses in all these years. He added that anchors these days use their influence to settle scores, which is where the freedom should end. Ahmad also said that criticism of the state institutions on media should not be encouraged. “When media is free, it has various voices which may not always toe the establishment’s line. Challenging the de facto power structures is considered a crime in Pakistan,” said analyst Imtiaz Alam. He says with the rise of media, the powers-that-be were finding it difficult to handle the criticism because they were not used to it. Alam says the ongoing wave of censorship began with the civil-military tensions in the wake of Dawn Leaks saga, “when the then PM’s office was declared a security risk”. “There have been several instances of political engineering, but media was not allowed to talk about it,” he says. Alam says there is little resistance against the wave of censorship because democratic movement has been defeated and civil society weakened, due to which journalists have become vulnerable. He, however, hoped that the ‘tradition of resistance’ will not die out and democratic voices will rise against the ongoing attacks on free speech to protect their hard-earned freedom. The writer is Assistant Editor, Daily Times. She tweets at @AiliaZehra and can be reached at [email protected] Published in Daily Times, November 18th 2018.