World Press Freedom Day: ‘Sahafi Summit’ brings together journalists from across Pakistan

Karachi: The two-day Sahafi summit concluded on Friday (May 03) amidst calls for unity among journalists. 

The first-ever Sahafi Summit was co-organized by Digital Journalists of Pakistan and Media Matters for Democracy at the Centre for Excellence in Journalism (CEJ)-IBA in partnership with UNESCO Pakistan, the European Union, the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, the Embassy of Sweden in Pakistan, and the DW Akademie.

The summit that began on Thursday, May 02 and ended on Friday, May 03,  brought together journalists from the print, digital, and broadcast media working for a variety of mainstream and independent news publications all over the country.

Over the two days, the summit featured insightful and wide-ranging discussions on the serious issues faced by the Pakistani news media, including mass lay-offs, online campaigns against journalists, threats of physical harm, censorship, and the ever-increasing pressure on journalism from disinformation and misinformation.

Day 1: 

Emerging challenges to journalism in Pakistan, including threats to independent news media from digital disinformation and financial cuts, were discussed at length on the first day of the Sahafi Summit on Thursday.

UNESCO Pakistan Country Representative Vibeke Jensen welcomed the participants at the event.

The opening plenary session focussed on the controls of information and the censorship faced by the Pakistani news media. The session emphasised the idea of continuing the struggle against curbs on the press rather than giving up.

The summit generated robust and inclusive discussions on current challenges faced by the news industry in Pakistan, including the co-ordinated and malicious spread of disinformation, the crisis of media literacy, regulation, and the broadcast media’s struggling business model for revenue generation.

The summit’s breakout sessions tackled diverse themes and issues related to the media.

In the first of these sessions, the effects of disinformation on credible journalism were discussed along with newsroom strategies that can effectively deal with verification in the digital era.

The need for media and information literacy was central to the summit and its importance in pushing back against oniine disinformation was discussed at one session. Responses expected from the civil society, media organisations, and the academia to develop media and information literacy in Pakistan were brought up in the discussion.

In another session, journalists working with online Urdu news and entertainment platforms shared their experience of balancing the pressures of online revenue generation with the responsibility of producing ethical journalism.

The challenges faced by Pakistani women reporters were discussed at a session on women in journalism. The discussion examined newsroom culture that often suppresses women journalists’ voices, the risks of online and physical harassment, and the lack of mentors for young women journalists.

Ways and means to bring the Pakistani news industry up to speed with global digital trends and tips for setting up an independent media enterprise were also shared at separate panel discussions.

The findings of a survey conducted by the Digital Journalists of Pakistan on the salary issues of working journalists were presented to the Sahafi Summit participants in the closing plenary session.

The survey showed that a majority of the respondents had not received a single pay raise in five years, did not get paid on time, and felt they were underpaid. Around one-third of the respondents said they did not get health or related benefits.

The presentation was followed by a detailed discussion on Pakistan’s media economy including the issue of mass layoffs, investment in digital news and services, and the role of news media owners.

Jean-François Cautain, the Ambassador of the European Union delegation to Pakistan, delivered the concluding remarks on the first day.

Day 2:

The Sahafi Summit concluded in Karachi on Friday with a vow of solidarity with journalists across Pakistan who face increasing threats to their physical, digital, and financial well-being.

UNESCO Country Representative Vibeke Jensen welcomed the participants for the final day’s proceedings at the summit, which also marked World Press Freedom Day 2019.

In keeping with the occasion, the summit opened with a series of talks by distinguished journalists about their personal experience of resisting the curbs on press freedom and advocating for journalists’ safety in Pakistan.

Three media and information literacy workshops were conducted during the summit’s final day. The workshop topics revolved around the 2019 theme of World Press Freedom Day, “Media for democracy: Journalism and elections in times of disinformation.”

In the workshop sessions, expert journalists equipped participants with knowledge and skills on journalism ethics, verification, and building trust with digital audiences.

In the first workshop, participants went through case studies of news coverage of high-profile current affairs events to see how editorial decision-making can benefit from ethical safeguards. Tools and techniques to help with sourcing credible information online and verifying social media content were shared in the second workshop session. The final workshop allowed participants to discuss and understand strategies to build a trustworthy network of online news audiences.

In a closing plenary discussion on the history, current scenario, and future projections of the state of press freedom in Pakistan, the issues of contemporary controls of the news media were highlighted. Speakers brought up the use of the anti-cyber crimes law and social media trolling to discredit credible news reporting.

They also spoke about the qualitative differences between censorship in the past compared to present day and the constraints on reporting of national security, human rights, and religious matters. While the state of press freedom is weak in Pakistan, participants agreed that solidarity in resisting the challenges and helping more journalists to work with digital media could lead to improvements.

Ardi Stoios-Braken, the Ambassador of the Netherlands to Pakistan, delivered the concluding remarks at the summit.

“Journalism matters” 

Journalists lauded the Sahafi Summit and expressed hope to see more conventions of this sort.

Ramsha Jahangir from Dawn News expressed her thoughts in a tweet about Sahafi Summit in these words:

Jahanzaib Haque added:

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