IFJ: Situation Report for Pakistan, Nov. 9
November 9, 2009
Media personnel in Balochistan contend with alarmingly regular violence and threats as a consequence of their work, leading to widespread self-censorship. The difficulties are compounded by a historic failure to provide adequate professional training for local media personnel, the unwillingness of media proprietors to pay reasonable wages and support the safety of their workers, and a related attitude among some that media work is not a profession but merely a means to secure financial or political benefits by other means.
The following report was commissioned by the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), in alliance with its affiliate, the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), to assess the situation on the ground for journalists working in an area from which little information is usually available.
“Stop this biased reporting or get ready for serious repercussions” was the threat given to a local journalist who works for international radio. The threat came after he filed a report about the so-called ban imposed by Baloch separatist organisations on the hoisting of Pakistan’s national flag and the playing of the national anthem in government schools in Balochistan.
Media personnel in Balochistan commonly face such threats, and many suffer physical harassment, making it difficult for them to perform their professional duties freely and conveniently.
The threats for journalists and media workers in the province are multiple. They face tremendous pressures from separatist organisations, nationalist forces, political parties and, above all, the paramilitary Frontier Corps (FC). Journalists are therefore very wary of the risks of reporting.
Chisti Mujahid, a senior journalist, was murdered in February 2008 for writing a few lines about a chief of Balochistan’s powerful Murree tribe who had been killed and buried in neighbouring Afghanistan. Other journalists have been beaten up by unknown people, who later made telephone calls to the journalists and identified themselves as activists of various separatist organisations and asking the journalists to write according to their dictates.
Like other sectors, the media is a neglected profession in Balochistan, where media owners pay little attention to improving working conditions. Mushroom growth in local print media organisations is a big challenge in terms of organising collective action to secure improved conditions.
Balochistan’s media comprises mainstream national media (including print and broadcasting) and local media (which consists of daily newspapers, and weekly and monthly magazines).
A few local journalists and photographers are affiliated with international media organisations such as the British Broadcasting Corporation, Voice of America, Reuters, Agence France-Presse and Associated Press. These journalists enjoy a better working environment compared with those who work for national and local media. But even as they receive more pay, they are also more prone to threats from separatists who demand media space to air their views in international media outlets, especially radio, or order restrictions on reports that highlight their outlawed activities.
However, conditions in local media are the worst. No less than 104 local dailies are published from the provincial capital of Quetta. There are more than 100 weeklies and likewise monthly journals also published. Most of the newspapers do not appear in the market. Yet they are efficient in securing advertisements from the provincial Government’s Director of Public Relations – the lone source of advertisements in the province. There are no big commercial organisations or industries which generate advertising for local media outlets.
Most of these newspapers do not have offices or employees. Rather, they rely on a few low-cost national news agencies for content. Many simply are photocopies of other local newspapers, with a new masthead attached.
Conditions for journalists in the districts outside the provincial capital of Quetta are even more deplorable. The main news-making points outside Quetta are the towns of Chaman and Dera Murad Jamali, where some local journalists conduct reporting as district correspondents, even though they are not paid by their respective organisations. The district correspondents, who report to Quetta and elsewhere, do not benefit from facilities such as offices or equipment provided by the organisations for which they report. As such, they commonly have to hold down other jobs in order to earn a livelihood while working in media as part-timers.
Women in journalism in the traditional Pakhtun-Baloch society are negligible. Only five to six women work as full-time journalists in Quetta, and all hold junior positions with television outlets. They say they would not join print media organisations or seek to work in the field because the salaries are too low. Surprisingly, these women say they are not pressured by the tribal society, their families, or their male colleagues and media owners. If there are women working in the print media, they are part-timers.
Busy in protecting the rights of journalists, the Balochistan Union of Journalists (BUJ), an affiliate of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), has struggled to perform effectively due to limited financial resources and low membership. Some non-members have reservations about the union, particularly its strict membership criteria. Disgruntled journalists have subsequently formed the Quetta Union of Journalists.
Journalists in Balochistan need capacity building, as most have not received professional training. Despite the ongoing conflict in the province, journalists and other media workers receive no training on how to work safely in a hostile environment.
Status of the Media
The Jang, Express and Dawn groups are the few media organisations with properly established offices in Quetta. Among the local newpapers, Mashriq, Azadi, Asab, Intikkab and Awam and a few others have offices where editorial staff work. The rest of the local newspapers have no proper office set-up.
Abdul Khaliq, the General Secretary of the Balochistan Union of Journalists (BUJ) and a senior staffer of the Daily Jang, says that only a few staffers at Jang have been given the 1996 wage award, while the rest work on contracts. (The Seventh Wage Board Award announced in October 2001 has still not been implemented anywhere in Pakistan, and the establishment of the Eighth Wage Board is overdue.) All new recruits are being put on contracts.
Express is considered as good organisation with regard to salaries and facilities. But during a visit to the office, it was found that staffers of the Express newspapers were also working for the organisation’s television outlet, for no extra payment. They were paid between PKR 14,000 (USD168) and PKR 25,000 (USD300) a month. The same organisation offers much higher salaries in other stations of the country such as Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad, where the work of the newspapers and television outlets are maintained separately.
Personnel working for local organisations experience the worst working conditions among media workers in the province. In several offices, media personnel receive media accreditation cards but receive no salary, while in other organisations people are paid but at a very low rate.
Reporters and sub-editors at some local newspapers receive a meagre PKR 1000 (USD12) a month. The maximum salary offered at the local newspapers, including Mashriq, with the largest daily circulation, is PKR 10,000 (USD120) a month.
As a result of the low salaries, journalists and media workers are compelled to work for more than one organisation simultaneously.
Jamal Tarakai, a talented young man who is a photographer, cartoonist and a reporter at the same time, works for 11 local media organisations. He is paid PKR 15,000 (USD180) in total for all jobs. “If any organisation pays me around PKR 20,000 per month, I will stop working with all these offices,” he said.
Salim Shahid, one of the most senior journalists in Pakistan and Dawn’s bureau chief in Quetta, said media workers do not receive appointment letters. “Salaries are low,” he said. “No medical facility is provided nor any gratuity or provident fund is given to the journalists.” He sees the major threat to journalism in Balochistan as a lack of professionalism.
Shahid believes that no skills are required for opening a newspaper in the province. “Here, you can see illiterate chief editors/owners and non-professional editors. More than a hundred dailies have acquired declarations and are getting regular advertisements, but very few of them can be seen in the market,” he said.
About 100 to 120 full-time journalists work in the province. Those journalists who retain full-time employment are in a far better position compared with lesser qualified part-timers, in terms of better working conditions, relatively higher salaries and more organisational support. Most of the qualified professionals work with international media organisations and/or the national media companies such as Dawn and Jang.
Among much of the rest of the provincial media fraternity, media workers receive no training and do not show an appreciation for journalism as a profession serving the public interest. Many people who would not have taken up media work as a first choice began in recent years, amid the media industry’s expansion, to work in newspaper offices when they could not find other jobs. This then provides them an opportunity to acquire a press card, which helps them to do other business – legal or illegal.
“These non-professional media workers have earned a bad name for journalism here. You would see these journalists pounding over those showing them currency notes after a press conference. This is really insulting for the entire profession,” Salim Shahid remarked.
Women in the Media
Lack of opportunities, low wages and traditional tribalism have in the past discouraged women from entering journalism in the province. However, the expansion of broadcast media in Balochistan, as elsewhere in Pakistan, has provided more appealing work and conditions for women graduates from Quetta University’s Journalism and Mass Communication Department to seek journalistic positions.
Presently, just six women journalists work with various television channels, while two work in print media and one works for Radio Pakistan. None of the women working in the media in Quetta are members of the Balochistan Union of Journalists (BUJ) or the Quetta Press Club.
Despite new opportunities, however, women television workers also complain of low wages. One woman journalist said she quit her position at a television station because the wages were insufficient.
Zaib-un-Nisa, who works at Jang and also serves as public relations officer at the state-run University of Information Technology, said a considerable number of women complete their Master’s degrees in journalism in Quetta. However, especially low wages for women combined with poor facilities and conditions suitable to women were key factors discouraging women with journalism degrees from joining the profession. This was especially the case with print media, and explained why women preferred to work in broadcasting.
Nisa said she did not think that social pressures from families, male colleagues or tribal traditions were the reason for women choosing not to join the profession. Rather, many trained women did not see a viable future for themselves in media work.
Safety and Protection
Senior journalist Chishti Mujahid was murdered in Quetta on February 9, 2008. More than 20 months later, local police have not conducted a proper investigation even though they were active in their inquiries immediately after Mujahid was killed. It is reported that the police became silent and sealed the first information report (FIR) that had been lodged at the Satellite police station in Quetta after the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) separatist movement claimed responsibility for Mujahid’s murder.
“It is a common tradition here that FIRs are filed in the incidents of targeted killing, but no follow-up interrogations are made (in all cases),” Khabrain senior staffer Musa Farman said.
Mujahid was a doctor by profession and worked as an eye specialist at a local hospital. But he had also worked in journalism for 38 years, was affiliated with the Jang Group, and contributed regular articles to the weekly Akhbar-e-Jahaan. Mujahid had developed close ties with Balochistan’s former Governor, Owais Ghani. Mujahid was a good photographer and Ghani set up an office for him at the Governor’s House, as a base from which Mujahid covered the Governor’s private and official meetings.
Several days after Mujahid was killed, BLA spokesman Sherbaz phoned Jang’s Ameenullah Fitrat and claimed responsibility for the murder. Ameenullah quoted the caller as saying, “The role of Dr Sahib was wrong. He was involved in anti-Baloch activities. He worked for the Government. We tried to make him understand several times, but he did not.”
Mujahid was murdered after filing a routine news report about the killing and burial of Baloch separatist Mir Balach Murree in Afghanistan. There was nothing controversial in the article, but editors added a headline reading, “The one who claimed a separate state could not find two yards of land in his country for burial.” This is believed to be the prime reason for the murder.
Mujahid’s family said they have no complaints against the police, as they recognise the difficulties for police in dealing with similar cases. But the family is upset by the failure of Akhbar-e-Jahan’s owners and Owais Ghani to even offer them condolences in a phone call.
Mujahid’s brother, Dr Tariq, said, “It was a fault of the editors that became the prime reason for the killing of my elder brother, who was like a father for me. And no one from Jang Group even visited our home or at least made a phone call to express sympathies with us.
“We are not in need of their sympathies, but he had served for the organisation for 28 long years.
“The BUJ and Quetta Press Club had invited them to a condolence ceremony, for which too they could not turn up. Even the editor of Jang here did not come to share the grief with us.”
Tariq said that Owais Ghani, who used to call Mujahid his brother, had not contacted the family and nor had he checked on the stalled police investigation into the murder.
While it is dangerous to speak out against the BLA and also the Baloch Liberation Front (BLF), the attitude of Jang Group and the former governor has greatly disappointed Mujahid’s family, Tariq said.
Attacks and Threats Against Journalists
Media personnel in Balochistan work under tremendous pressure. Caught between the FC and the separatists, journalists are immensely careful in their reporting of issues or events that may upset either side.
They are commonly expected to work in accordance with the dictates of security forces as well as Baloch insurgent groups. “The Baloch nationalists often dictate to us that their reports should be published in such and such a manner,” said Razaur Rahman, resident editor of the Daily Express and a former president of the BUJ.
On January 17, 2007, two masked men entered a shop owned by the son of incumbent BUJ president Majid Fauz and began shooting. Fauz’s son, Zeeshan, and a salesman, Nazar Tareen, suffered severe injuries.
“My son, who had received a bullet in the neck, recovered after treatment here,” Fauz said. “But I had to shift the salesman to National Hospital Karachi. The salesman remained under treatment for 28 days at the civil hospital here and for 19 days at Karachi. I had to spend about 0.2 million rupees on his treatment.
“They had of course come after me. But I was not in the shop at that time. I had received some threats before and even after the attack.”
Repeated threats and Balochistan’s tense environment has led Fauz to send his son to live and work in Islamabad.
The list of cases of attacks on media personnel in Balochistan is long. Some examples include the following.
Majeed Asghar, Jang resident editor, narrowly escaped injury when he was shot at by Baloch nationalists five years ago.
Mohammad Ejaz Khan, bureau chief for The News and Geo News, lost his eye in a bomb explosion in Quetta in 2006.
Riaz Mengal, a district correspondent in Khuzdar, was picked up by security forces and kept in custody for five days in 2008. He was released after suffering severe torture.
Kazim Mengal, chief reporter of Express, and cameraman Mahmud were harassed by security forces and their equipment was taken from them, while filing a report on the Sandak Gold Project in Chaghi district in May 2009. They had prior permission to enter the area, Shah Hussain, a senior reporter of Express said.
Jamal Tarakai has faced many threats from various people. “Once the activists of the Balochistan Student Organisations were beating Din Mohammad Watanpal, a photographer, at a protest rally when I managed to rescue him. Two people came to my house later in the night and asked me to leave Balochistan or I would be killed,” he said. “Last year I was going home in the evening when some masked men intercepted me and gave me a sound beating. They were also abusing me. I don’t know who were they?” He also received threats from the BLA for cartoons of the late Nawab Akbar Bugti, of the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party, and Mahmud Khan Achakzai, the same party’s head, as well as threats from Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam for a caricature of Maulana Fazlur Rahman on various occasions since 2003.
A reporter working with an international broadcast service, who preferred to remain anonymous, filed a news report on efforts to ban the Pakistan national anthem and flag in Balochistan this year. “It was a balanced piece. But after it was aired, I received threatening phone calls asking me to stop this biased reporting,” he said.
One journalist who works for an international service said he had received numerous threats by phone, and is scared when he goes home from the office in the evenings. “Every passing motorbike near me adds to my fear,” he said.
Ameenullah Fitrat received a threatening phone call from the Taliban after he reported the abduction in February 2009 of UNHCR official John Solecki and noted possible Taliban involvement. This is perhaps the lone threat given by the Taliban to any journalist in Balochistan so far.
Fitrat has also been picked up by security agencies several times. “I used to cover conflict reports on both the Afghanistan and Pakistan side. Some three to four years back I had interviewed Ayman Al-Zawahiri, the Al-Qaida No. 2, somewhere near Kandahar, Afghanistan. Months after that interview I was taken away by the security personnel. I was kept under detention for four days. A US official also used to come to me under detention and ask questions about the whereabouts of Zawahiri, which I didn’t know. They tortured me. They kept me in severe cold. They poured chilly water on my head in the cold days of winter. However, they released me after four days,” he said.
There is an urgent need for inquiries to be conducted in Balochistan’s more distant districts to gather information about the situation for journalists working there.
Journalists in Balochistan require much more training support, dealing with a range of issues. A union training workshop conducted with the support of the IFJ and the PFUJ in October 2009 was the first training arranged solely for journalists in the province. As a result, the participants were extremely appreciative and requested more such assistance and attention.
Journalists’ unions need capacity-building to provide members with adequate support, to assure fair representation of members, to expand membership and to improve networking and information-sharing with journalists’ organisations at the local and federal level.
In order to encourage qualified women into the profession, journalists’ unions need to focus special attention on recruiting women members and relaxing membership criteria.
Media personnel in Balochistan are working in a very hostile environment, yet they have been provided with little training support for operating in such conditions, aside from an IFJ safety training program conducted in Karachi with journalists and media workers from Balochistan in October 2008. Safety training and other capacity-building sessions need to be organised in Quetta, and media personnel from the province should be invited to join other training programs organised for other parts of Pakistan.
Both national and local media owners must be compelled to act on their responsibility for ensuring their personnel not only enjoy fair pay and decent conditions, but also that they receive adequate support for their safety and protection. Insurance schemes are necessary to support journalists and their families in the event of injury or worse.