There is no comfort to be derived from the fact that Pakistan is the fourth-most dangerous country in the world for journalists after Mexico, the Philippines and Iraq, according to a report compiled by the International Federation of Journalists, which was released on February 3. The report looks at the state of journalist safety around the world during the last 25 years. There have been 115 journalists killed in Pakistan since 1990. They have died in a variety of ways — targeted killing, caught in the crossfire, bomb attack, ‘disappeared’ and some by the very corrupt officials they sought to expose. There hardly appears to have been a successful prosecution of anybody for the murder of a journalist in Pakistan since the turn of the century, and a very small handful of arrests made of persons alleged to have been involved in killing representatives of the Fourth Estate.
The state in its broad sense is uncomfortable with journalists that do not toe the sycophantic line, be they in print or electronic media. Those that kill journalists do so in the knowledge that they are protected by a pervasive — and effective — culture of impunity. Police forces rarely investigate the deaths of journalists and often will resist even filing an FIR. The media itself in all its iterations is a genie that is long out of the bottle, and is increasingly diverse. It is also a shape changer as those that have sought in recent weeks to regulate — censor — the internet may have realised. The internet is not like a newspaper or a television station; it is a moving target, ever evolving, and for those censoriously inclined, difficult to hit.
It must not be assumed that those journalists whose domain is primarily online are any safer than those who are in the field. There are reports of internet journalists being harassed in Pakistan, both online and in the real world. Sadly, it is probably only a matter of time before one of them joins the 115 already dead over the last quarter-century. With the state at least complicit, and in all probability culpable in some instances in the death of journalists, there is little hope for improvement in the foreseeable future, and telling truth to power remains a deadly business.
PSL — a great opportunity beckons
The opening ceremony of the Pakistan Super League (PSL) exceeded expectations as a sensational fireworks display and some uplifting performances provided the kind of start the league needed to make a good first impression. The much-maligned Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) and PSL officials deserve credit for finally being able to kick-start a competition that has been in the offing for years, but hit one stumbling block after the other. Notwithstanding the one-sided opening match that followed between Islamabad United and Quetta Gladiators, we hope that the PSL will provide the kind of fillip to Pakistan cricket that it has long needed. In the days ahead, the PSL think tank would need to focus on improving the quality of the pitches as the action on the field will eventually dictate the success of the tournament. While the turnout for the first day was almost 75 per cent of the Dubai International Stadium, this momentum must be sustained and improved upon in the days to come. The spectators must be provided with all the comfort, something which has historically lacked in PCB-organised events.
The value of the PSL to Pakistan cricket will truly materialise when young Pakistani players grab the golden opportunity they have been presented with and improve their skill set by interacting and observing from close quarters the work ethic and skills of some of the biggest stars in the game. Players like Chris Gayle, Shane Watson and Kevin Pietersen can prove to be real inspirations for their younger Pakistani teammates. There was a time when Pakistan had arguably the best Twenty20 team in the world. However, the national team soon started lagging behind the other nations as players from around the world started honing their skills in various Twenty20 leagues. With the PCB unable to start its own league, the skill set of our newly emerging players remained stagnant. The PSL provides the ideal stage for Pakistan cricket to hone new talent and provide domestic cricketers with some much-need financial security. We wish it success in its all-important first edition.
The divided state of America
The United States is a country divided. Discrimination against religious and ethnic minorities is alive and well. But the deepest divide lies along partisan lines and with the 2016 presidential race heating up, the gulf between the Democrats and the Republicans has become increasingly evident. Republican presidential candidates have chosen to use fear and insecurity arising out of terrorist incidents to build a poisonous narrative against the Muslim community, with Donald Trump having gone so far as to demand that Muslim visitors to the country be banned. In this backdrop, President Barack Obama’s first-ever visit to a mosque on US soil while in office is a welcome attempt to address this rhetoric. No longer concerned about re-election or ‘optics’, his visit to the Islamic Society of Baltimore mosque has been appreciated by Muslim groups, which have been trying for years for the president to make this symbolic gesture against religious discrimination.
In his speech at the mosque, President Obama thanked the Muslim community for its contribution to American society and told his listeners: “You’re not Muslim or American. You’re Muslim and American.” His speech was meant not only to reassure American Muslims of their place in society but is also an effort to convince American voters not to buy into hate-mongering and divisive politics. There is, however, little chance of that happening at least as far as the right wing segments of the US are concerned. While the president’s own party is firmly in favour of religious harmony, on the other side of the aisle things are radically different. His speech repeated the same calls for peace and understanding which were made by President Bush following the 9/11 attacks, but this time round the game of one-upmanship being played in the Republican camp has led to there being a caustic reaction. Both Trump and Marco Rubio have criticised the president’s visit to the mosque and his speech. While their comments are calculated to get the most votes, President Obama has rightly risen above divisive politics and displayed the kind of leadership that is badly needed in many Western countries where Islamophobia is on the rise.