Pakistani Journalist Mazhar Abbas discusses Press Freedom during a J-School Visit

By Sonya Rehman

Mazhar Abbas, a well-known Pakistani journalist visited the J-School’s Student Center yesterday evening for a talk on the struggle for press freedom in Pakistan through the years.

Abbas started his career at a time when Pakistan was under strict martial law. “In Pakistan in 1981, there was complete censorship of the press”, Abbas said, “Every publication had to carry pro-government news. Some newspapers out of retaliation started issuing blank pages and this annoyed the government. Soon the government issued a statement making it mandatory to fill up the pages with pictures and pro-government news.”

Mazhar Abbas at the Student Center in the Journalism School (Photo by Ayza Omar)

Those were bleak time for Pakistan, but currently as Abbas pointed, Pakistan has approximately 60 channels out of which around 30 are news channels. “By 1990, after 1986, all four governments in Pakistan were dismissed one after the other. And our media had a role to play in their dismissal.”

Although the media has expanded, Abbas said that Pakistan was perhaps the only country in the world which has a viable and vocal media industry. That being stated, Abbas addressed the fact that while the media in Pakistan has its liberties and freedom of expression, journalists within the country work in a hostile environment and are not prepared nor trained to work in such an environment where not only them, but their families are also targeted.

Abbas gave a few distressing examples of Pakistani journalists who had been killed while on duty, and stated that the situation in Pakistan was growing to be extremely alarming for journalists and stressed the dire need for training programs for journalists working in war-zones.

*Abbas was at the J-School in October, 2009. This piece was penned for the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism website.

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