Bad Character To Treason: Pakistani Journalists Battle For Their Reputations


One barometer for the state of freedom of speech and the freedom to report in Pakistan can be gauged from the harassment — whether virtual or physical — that journalists have to face in the country.

A global survey report prepared by the Global Reporting Centre at the University of British Columbia School of Journalism, Writing and Media. In 2022, some 645 journalists living in 87 countries were asked questions in six languages.

Of those surveyed, around 63% said that their individual reputations were attacked at least once a month. At the same time, a whopping 19% reported facing such attacks daily.

The rates were even higher for attacks on the reputations of their news outlets (75%) or the broader news media sector (90%).

The report noted that this is a worrying trend because a journalist’s reputation affects whether they are heard and believed, trusted by potential sources, and often whether they can survive economically.

Hence, attacking a journalist’s reputation most benefits those who want to hide the truth or evade accountability.

What are reputational attacks?

The report’s authors defined “reputational attacks” as public messages intended to discredit, delegitimize, or dehumanize journalists.

These attacks are frequently mounted online by accounts with neither names nor pictures that can identify real individuals. What is worrisome is that politicians can also mount these attacks in their speeches, news broadcasts, and courtrooms.

They can range from epithets in Twitter comments, to groundless claims in legal suits, to sophisticated disinformation campaigns using manipulated videos.

Impact of reputational attacks

The impact of the attacks can be witnessed in how press freedom and trust in journalism appear to be in decline globally while threats to journalists’ safety are on the rise.

The report noted that the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) had recorded fatal attacks on at least 67 journalists and media workers in 2022, the highest since 2018. Moreover, a record 363 were in jail as of December 1, 2022.

Moreover, the report found that journalists who faced frequent reputational attacks were more likely to have experienced harm to their mental and physical health, seriously considered quitting journalism, and relocated from their city or country to avoid or mitigate threats.

Their work made them more likely to face legal repression, such as targeted arrests or legal actions,.

Consequently, around 40% of respondents said they changed or reduced their reporting on some issues to avoid efforts to discredit or harass them.__The Friday Times