By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, Dec 1: Senior Pakistani editor Najam Sethi on Tuesday received the WAN-IFRA Golden Pen of Freedom for 2009 for his "fierce commitment and courage... to the perennial quest for reporting the truth and analysing it without fear or favour".
The Gold Pen of Freedom is the annual Press freedom prize of the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers.Responding to the award, Najam Sethi said it was however becoming increasingly difficult for journalists to remain independent and bipartisan in this region. "Increasingly, editors are managers rather than journalists, or journalists who are managers. And an overly aggressive corporate sector has
replaced the government both as the most significant source of media revenue and the concomitant political pressure that goes with it, often at the expense of the public interest," he said.
Najam Sethi said the media in India and Pakistan is trapped in what he termed narrow nationalism and accused it of being part of the problem in relations between the two neighbours. He said the media in both the countries was too intensely nationalistic and had pushed them to the brink of war after last year's terrorist attacks in Mumbai. "After Mumbai last year, both the media put on the war paint and pushed their governments to the brink of war."
He cited several instances where the media in both the countries stopped the respective governments from continuing with the peace dialogue at critical points. "In 1989 when the then Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi visited Pakistan, the Pakistani media stopped Benazir Bhutto's government from implementing the far-reaching cultural accords that were signed on that occasion. When Rajiv Gandhi went back, the Indian media stopped him from moving ahead on Siachen accord inked by the defence secretaries of the two countries in Pakistan," he said.
Elaborating his point further, he said "the same thing happened in 1997 when Indian media stopped the government of then Prime Minister Gujral from discussing the issue of Kashmir with the Nawaz Sharif government in Pakistan. In 2001, Pakistani media stopped General Pervez Musharraf from making a compromise with India in the historic city of Agra."
This year, the Indian media stopped Prime Minister Manmohan Singh from fulfilling his commitments made at Sharm-el-Sheikh in Egypt, Najam Sethi pointed out.
Stating that the 22 journalists killed in South Asia last year died at the hands of non-state actors, he said increasingly, the media is caught in the cross fire between armed non-state actors and states in the region. He said the Taliban forcibly stopped the sale of Daily Aajkal in their stronghold and hurled menacing warnings at the paper in Peshawar.
Najam Sethi is known as an advocate of liberal and secular ideas in Pakistan, which is too-often torn by extremism. World Editors' Forum president Xavier Vidal-Folch presenting the award said "Najam Sethi has managed to anger both the extremists and the government authorities, merely by doing his job, and this is at the heart of why WAN-IFRA is honouring him today with its Golden Pen of Freedom award for carrying out his role as an independent journalist, for reporting and investigating all sides equally, and for being a
voice of moderation, despite the continuous threats and constant danger he faces."
Sethi¹s home and office are under constant guard. The Taliban threatened to kill him if he did not change his editorial policy. He has also received death threats from radical religious groups after he published a cartoon that depicted Umme Hassaan, principal of a radical women's school, educating female students to wage jihad and embrace martyrdom. Mr Sethi was imprisoned thrice.
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