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Acceptance speech from Golden Pen of Freedom 2009 winner Najam Sethi

Acceptance speech from Golden Pen of Freedom 2009 winner Najam Sethi

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Published by Journalismcouk

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Published by: Journalismcouk on Dec 01, 2009
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02/16/2011

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Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemenI am honoured to be here among such a glittering gathering of intellectuals, businessmen and journalists. And I am doubly honoured to receive the Golden Pen for Freedom Award this year. This reflects the commitment and courage of South Asia’sfree media to the perennial quest for reporting the truth and analyzing it without fear or favour. Last year, 22 journalists died in the line of duty - seven each in India andPakistan and two each in Afghanistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka. The toll is 7 killed inPakistan so far this year.It is, however, becoming increasingly difficult for journalists to remain independentand bipartisan in this region. In the old days, the carrot and stick pressure used tocome from authoritarian governments. But the advent of constitutional freedoms andsafeguards has relieved that source of tension. Indeed, economic growth and risingliteracy has led to higher ad revenues and better work and pay conditions in themedia, and reduced the scope for corruption and bribery by the state. But ironicallyenough the rise of the private sector has brought its own set of constraints ontraditional notions of editorship and professionalism. Increasingly, editors aremanagers rather than journalists, or journalists who are managers. And an aggressivecorporate sector has replaced the government both as the most significant source of media revenue and the pressure that goes with it.There is a second development that merits concern. The 22 journalists killed in SouthAsia last year died at the hands of non-state actors. Increasingly, the media is caughtin the cross fire between armed non-state actors and states in the region. This is a far cry from the sort of repression some of us faced in the 1980s and 1990s. I wasimprisoned by the regime of General Zia ul Haq in 1984 for publishing a book hedidn’t like. I was jailed again in 1999 by the democratic regime of Prime Minister  Nawaz Sharif for exposing corruption. The nature of the threat in recent times is moreextreme.The papers I edit have been in the forefront of the war against Al-Qaeda and theTaliban. Therefore all are the receiving end of credible threats from radical religiousextremists to change their editorial policies which espoused liberal, democratic, progressive and humanist values. The Taliban forcibly stopped the sale of my papersin the tribal areas of Pakistan and hurled menacing warnings at us. Taliban supportshave held protest demonstrations against me in Islamabad and Punjab. My family andI have received letters from the Tehreeke-e-Taliban of Pakistan accusing me of beinga “Western agent” and warning me to return to the “true path of a Muslim”, or else.Pictures of the severed heads of “American Spies” beheaded by the Taliban have beenenclosed for my benefit. I am one of four Pakistani journalists on the hit list of theTaliban published prominently in their magazine Tora Bora published fromWaziristan. The others have fled the country. This exhorts Believers to track me downand eliminate me. A pro-Taliban top "rated" anchor and columnist has written in awidely read column against me, exhorting the Faithful to silence me for being anti-Islamic and for espousing a liberal, secular, rational, knowledge-based discourse of ideas and events. And so on. My family and I live in a constant state of siege, guarded by eight police commandos round the clock.I am also a passionate believer in the idea of enduring peace between Pakistan and

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