Editor-in-chief , Sangar Media , Journalist & Political Analyst
No society flourishes, or democracy does not come to a country and economic development is not possible unless their fourth pillar, the media is not free and freedom of expression does not exist.
In a society where freedom of expression is restricted, the society suffers from stagnation and the rule of tyranny blocks the ability of thinking and a certain class or power rules and plays with human rights. Such an example is Pakistan.
Pakistan continues to be ranked as one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists as more than 140 Journalists have been killed in the country since 2000.
Religious extremists and security forces continue to intimidate journalists in Pakistan.
According to David Griffiths, Amnesty International’s (AI) deputy Asia Pacific director, Pakistan is one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists.
Freedom of expression is a human right and forms Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Freedom of expression covers freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and gives individuals and communities the right to articulate their opinions without fear of retaliation, censorship or punishment. (The right to freedom of expression wouldn’t be worth much if the authorities also had the right to imprison anyone who disagrees with them.) An effective media also depends on the legal basis that freedom of expression gives the right to function and report freely, sometimes critically, without threat or fear of punishment.
Freedom of expression is not an absolute right: it does not protect hate speech or incitement to violence. That said, many other rights which are intrinsic to our daily lives build on and intersect with this protection for free thought and individual expression. Freedom of expression covers everything from satire to political campaigns to conversations in your own home. It’s a fundamental human right which allows for citizens to speak freely and without interference.
Knowledge is power. In print, on line, or on TV or radio: without a free exchange of information, people can’t be fully aware of what’s going on around them and so can’t meaningfully participate in their communities or democracies.
Local and national reporters, bloggers and news outlets can keep people informed about what is happening in the world around them. Freedom of expression is the legal underpinning which allows people to access information about current events and matters of public interest – whether that’s from large media companies, local newspapers, or from each other through citizen journalism and social media.
When freedom of expression is respected and recognised, the media are able to freely report on politics, economics and societal events as they occur.
A democratic society hinges on the people being able to hold informed opinions and express them – both in voting booths and more broadly in their day-to-day lives. It’s important that people are able to ask tough questions of the people in power and find out about decisions which affect them and their fellow citizens.
Freedom of expression is a core value in the democratic process. It ensures people are able to discuss, exchange, and debate ideas. This human right allows individuals and communities to find information which is important to them and share it with others, without censorship or reprisals.
Freedom of expression is crucial to the process of participating in a democracy. It influences everything from newspapers to social media posts and campaign adverts. By allowing voters to make their voices heard and make educated choices about the topics which matter to them, freedom of expression strengthens democracies.
But if we look around us, in a country like Pakistan where there is no democracy and freedom of expression is also restricted.
It’s crucial to quality journalism to be able to ask difficult questions, follow interesting stories, query inconsistencies and report accurately on the issues. By dedicating time, energy and skill to finding out what’s going on in the world around us, a free press is able to bring important information out into the public arena.
Accurate information is of huge importance to public debate: forming shared values and influencing policies at local, national and international levels. Investigative journalism is one of the most public-facing ways of sharing new information. Freedom of expression supports and protects the press’s ability to freely research and report in the public interest.
Sunlight is the best disinfectant. Independent reporting shines a light on sometimes-hidden topics and provides crucial checks and balances on powerful people and institutions. While an accurate press is not always flattering, it is crucial to hold the powerful and wealthy accountable.
Public attention creates scrutiny and is a disincentive for corruption or human rights abuses. The truths that quality investigative journalism uncovers can topple governments, alter international policies, and improve human rights standards internationally.
A strong, independent media ensures transparency and helps reduce maladministration. Freedom of expression protects the rights of reporters, bloggers and news outlets – and the general public – to speak critically.
A respect for freedom of expression is an essential element for a functioning and accurate media.
If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it: does it make a sound?
If human rights are abused and no one knows: how does anyone stop it?
Freedom of expression underpins a wide variety of other human rights both directly and indirectly. It can shine a light on human rights abuses such as torture, interference with indigenous peoples’ land rights. Without accurate reporting many human rights abuses would not be known about, and might continue with impunity. Freedom of expression allows people to tell their stories, help advocate, and hold governments to international human rights standards.
But the situation in Pakistan is different. The voice of the oppressed people has been silenced due to the controlled media. The Baloch, Sindhi, Pashtun nations are suffering due to the restriction on freedom of expression. Due to control of media by army and the notorious ISI, there are no reports of repression against these oppressed nations. This gives the Pakistani army and other state terrorists an impunity and they are continue their repression with more force.
Freedom of the press is important because it plays a vital role in informing citizens about public affairs and monitoring the actions of government at all levels.