Freedom of Expression Dying at KPC

By Malik Siraj Akbar

A recent seminar organized at Karachi Press Club on the issue of the missing Baloch persons was disrupted by a female journalist for unknown odd reasons. A dramatic scene was created when the female journalist stepped forward against a guest speaker, Professor Dr. Saba Dashtiyari, who teaches at the University of Balochistan in Quetta. She went on to remove a wooden piece from the dais and point it to the speaker seemingly to threaten him that if he continued to speak up, she may physically assault him.

Apparently, the only purpose of such an ugly disruption was a difference of opinion between the speaker and the journalist who was a part of the audience. Conferences, seminars and public discussions that focus on Balochistan often face such interruptions and sabotage from certain vested groups. Much to the regret of the female journalist, Professor Dashtiyari responded democratically, bravely and reasonably when he refused to get down from the stage in spite of the female journalist’s unprofessional behavior. He continued to insist that he had the basic human and constitutional right to the freedom of expression which nobody could take away from him. At the end of the day, Professor Dashtiyari prevailed and the female journalist had to face humiliation before a brave man professor who did not succumb in the interest of freedom of expression.

What Professor Dashtiyari said in response to the journalist during the skirmish was enough to humble the entire media community. “If you are a journalist,” he pleaded, “then you must behave like one, not like a scoundrel.”

While one does not have to necessarily agree with what Dashtiyari or people supporting him believe in, what needs to be guarded in a democratic set-up is the people’s right to freedom of expression. Unfortunately, it was the second time in the recent months when journalists, ironically, made a desperate attempt at the Karachi Press Club to discourage the freedom of expression at the press club. Previously, when a group of liberal bloggers had endeavored to speak at the KPC against the Lahore High Court ban on the popular social network, Facebook, some journalists disrupted the press conference. They used abusive language and literally scuffled with a male blogger who had a dissenting view on the ban.

Such intolerant, and now even violent, reaction exhibited on the part of journalists is a very alarming trend. While Press clubs are meant to be the centers of freedom of expression, journalists are expected to behave neutrally and objectively even in situations when they drastically disagree with certain points of view. When press clubs and journalists refuse to provide space to people possessing dissenting views, where else can people take refuge in a democratic set –up to vent their divergent views? The presence of such journalists who show by their actions that they act strangely to please certain groups rather than performing their journalistic duty is a disquieting leaning in the national media.

The governing bodies of all press clubs across the country, particularly in Karachi, the country’s largest city, should take notice of black sheep in the media who act beyond their professional mandate. A press card does not entitle a journalist to publicly humiliate someone else. Journalism should be practiced with responsibility, sensibility and tolerance. If journalists become biased while covering issues on which they may have a different opinion, they will only be compromising their professional integrity.

This country and the fledgling democracy should be given sufficient time and space to flourish. Criticism should be made without transgressing professional standards of journalism.

As far as Balochistan is concerned, the province needs to be heard. Disruption of seminars and conferences does not help to put out the fire in the province. Balochistan desperately needs attention. There is a need to open up the debate on Balochistan irrespective of difference of opinion as this is the only civilized and democratic way of responding to the situation.

(This write up originally appeared in The Baloch Hal, Balochistan’s first online English newspaper)

One Response to “Freedom of Expression Dying at KPC”
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