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PAKISTAN: Attacks on journalists increase with impunity

PAKISTAN: Double jeopardy -- Attacks on journalists increase with impunity

by Zia Ur Rehman
April 8, 2014

The journalists reporting on the two conflicts, namely Taliban militancy and the Baloch insurgency are faced with double jeopardy. They walk a tight rope while reporting

The recent attack on the Express Television anchor, columnist and consulting editor for the Friday Times, Raza Rumi indicates the serious threats faced by Pakistani journalists in their line of duty.

Fortunately Raza Rumi survived the attack but his driver lost his life on his way to the hospital. This is not the first time that a journalist has been targeted but the first time indeed that a high profile media person was targeted in Lahore. Mostly of the journalists killed came from the tribal belt or Baluchistan.

The journalists reporting on the two conflicts, namely Taliban militancy and the Baloch insurgency are faced with double jeopardy. They walk a tight rope while reporting. If their reports are viewed favourably by the terrorists in case of the Taliban or insurgents in case of Baloch, the journalists become a target of the security agencies or the terrorists and insurgents. This is not an easy situation to deal with by the journalists reporting in the conflict zones.

Another serious problem in the tribal belt that journalists face is the common perception there that the military and the militants are on the same page and only innocent people are suffering. It becomes tricky to maintain a balance in reports as it is hard to know exactly who is on whose side.

There is a famous line by theCNN senior international correspondent, Nick Robertson, who said that "no story is worth your life". While I agree with Mr. Robertson, the situation gets tricky in a country like Pakistan where people who are suffering look to media for help as the judiciary and law enforcement agencies have failed them. At this point it becomes more than journalism but a moral responsibility for journalists to report on whichever side is committing excesses.

It is obvious that the media in Pakistan has become fully corporate and the journalists reporting on conflicts are becoming more and more vulnerable as their respective media houses do not give them support in terms of life insurance, training and enough financial benefits. Perhaps Pakistan is the only country in world where news channels make more money than the entertainment media.

Background interviews with journalists and media rights campaigners suggest that journalists belonging to the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FAT) and Khyber Pukhtunkhwa face higher risks and in many cases, they are not only harassed, threatened but their families also suffer threats and harassment. At least three journalists- Aslam Durrani of Peshawar, Mumtaz Malik of North Wazirstan and Ayub Khattak of Karak- have been killed in North-western Pakistan because of their reporting during the year 2013. Other have been kidnapped, assaulted and suffered various kinds of abuse.

A life threatening situation was created for celebrated freelance journalist Kahar Zalmay, who belongs to the Mohmand Agency of FATA and who divides his time between FATA, KPK and Islamabad, when he crossed the red line for both sides. His articles have been critical of the talks with the terrorists as his view is that militancy in Pakistan has a commercial angle and not an ideological base. His research on the dangerous but least written about Panjpiri movement was the last nail in the coffin. He was threatened and harassed and was left with no option but to go into hiding, leaving his 12 year-long journalism career and his family to move to a safer place.

In Balochistan the situation is no different from FATA where the intelligence agencies, Baloch insurgents, underground death squads and sectarian groups like the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi have reportedly threatened journalists and in some cases have killed them. Rights groups have been reporting the deaths of journalists at the hands of intelligence agencies for a long time now.

Generally journalists get advice from families and colleagues that they should not be visiting dangerous areas like FATA and Baluchistan, putting their lives in danger but should focus on desk stories. But they should know that journalism is not physical science sitting in a lab making experiments. One cannot have a feel of the story if ones feet were not on the ground. If this were the case it would be the end of journalism in Pakistan and no mother would be willing to allow her children to study journalism, go out into the field and report or film stories. They would not even allow them to visit a Madrassa in Islamabad.

There are reports that senior journalist and TV host Imtiaz Alam has been receiving threats. A few months ago TV anchor Jasmin Manzoor reported cried in front of the Prime Minister begging for her life. If this trend continues, this could be the end of investigative journalism in Pakistan, especially in the war zones of FATA and Baluchistan. Journalists need security but when the State becomes the culprit, where would they expect safety and security of their lives and security for their loved ones.

*************

Zia Ur Rehman is a freelance journalist and researcher who writes for New York Times, The Friday Times and Central Asia Online.

About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation that monitors human rights in Asia, documents violations and advocates for justice and institutional reform to ensure the protection and promotion of these rights. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.

ENDS

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