The International Federation of Journalists ranked Pakistan as the most dangerous country in the world for the news media in 2014. Amnesty International says 34 journalists were killed in Pakistan between 2008 and 2014. Despite promises of stronger protections from Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, attacks continue. Within a single 24-hour period last week, there were three separate attacks on journalists and media workers that left two dead and two others injured. An attack in Karachi on a Geo television news van killed Arshad Ali Jaffery, a satellite engineer, and wounded the driver. Hours later, in the same city, gunmen killed Aftab Alam, a journalist who had previously worked for Geo News. In Peshawar, a journalist working for the state broadcaster PTV was shot by an unknown gunman.
Since democracy was restored in 2008, Pakistan’s news media has been bolder about exposing corruption and human rights abuses by the military and national security apparatus, which in turn have come down hard on the media. Authorities threatened to shut down Geo News after the station accused the country’s powerful spy agency, the ISI, of masterminding the attempted murder of its star newscaster Hamid Mir in 2014. Militant groups, including the Pakistani Taliban, also target journalists. Many Pakistani journalists admit they censor themselves for fear of losing their jobs — or their lives.
Last week’s attacks came on the heels of a new code of conduct issued by regulators that imposes limits on broadcast coverage of hostage standoffs and terrorist attacks and attempts to control what can be said during television talk shows. Mr. Sharif blamed “terrorists” for the attacks and promised that efforts underway to rid Karachi of criminal and militant groups would, “within the next two years,” make the city, and presumably journalists, safer.
He can do better. Two years is a long time to wait, and besides, terrorists are not the only forces threatening freedom of the press in Pakistan. Mr. Sharif’s promises to protect journalists will ring hollow until there is a credible investigation of Pakistan’s military and security agencies, and those responsible for abuses and threats against journalists are held accountable. The new code of conduct for broadcast journalists should be scrapped, or redrafted by the journalists themselves.