Presentations were staged at Aiwan-i-Sadr, on the occasion of Press Freedom Day, raising questions, about the status of our freedom.
According to CPJ Pakistan has been the most dangerous place for journalists in the world, for two consecutive years. This year the UNSECO published a report saying Pakistan is the second most dangerous place.
42 journalists have been killed in Pakistan since 1992, and 7 killed in 2011 alone. This according to CPJ makes Pakistan the most dangerous place for journalists in the world for that year. While many journalists are killed in the midst of a difficult situation during coverage, riots and militant attacks, most journalists are brutally murdered by the perpetrators of the crime they are covering. There have been overwhelming speculations against the state organs involvement in the killings of many significant names, which has worsened the condition on impunity in Pakistan.
Amar Guriro who reports from Karachi says, “These sacrifices are significant, and many of us are willing to take the risks, because that is our job. To get the story out, whether the perpetrators of crime like it or not”
The question also rises, whether these sacrifices of journalist are making the situation better or worse?
Looking at the results the Saleem Shahzad’s commission and what brought about this remarkable failure of the commission to present the culprits to the table, it is clear that the perpetrators of the crime were more powerful than the members of the commission. According to what Ayesha Siddiqa informed me , that she felt that the commission was not serious enough.Ms Siddiqa who herself was part of the commission believes that the commission could have done a better job.
Similarly, a political group in Karachi allegedly killed Wali Khan Babar but the media did not seem to highlight the issue with the right focus and in the right direction, so as to materialize the identification of those involved in his killing.
We have many cases of journalists who had to flee the country to save their lives. Among many, Malik Siraj Akbar, sought asylum from the US, due to threats because of his reporting from Balochistan. His website called The Baloch Hal, has been blocked by the PTA. Baloch Hal extensively reports on issues from Balochistan that are not widely discussed in the mainstream media. Baloch Hal is also the face of baloch issues, as it reports on many things that seem non-issue to other media or are at times under reported due to the threats of local reporters. Many local and international media picked up the issue of the brutal killing of Professor Saba Dashtiyari for his stance against the state, when Baloch Hal highlighted it.
Most direct and intense threats however, come from war reporting. Issues like militancy and insurgency have been found to be most difficult beat for journalists to cover. The Taliban have picked up many journalists from the FATA area while editors have been warned via phone calls. The government seems to take no interest in such cases and disengages from any complaints that are highlighted by the journalist community.
Protests and rallies after Saleem Shahzad brutal murder, did not make any difference in the lack of freedom that journalists have in this country, especially if they report on war and its perpetrators. One year later more protests and rallies were seen when Mukkaram Khan Atif was brutally murdered by the Taliban.
According to the website of Tribal Union of Journalists, “Political administration in FATA tried its best to stop tribal journalists from showing the real suffering and on ground realities of the tribal people to the outside world. In the process, they went to the extent of putting some journalists behind bars under the notorious collective Territorial Responsibility clause of the Frontier crimes Regulation [FCR, 1901.] like dictatorial governments, the administration did not even tolerate constructive criticism of the tribal system and went to the extent of expelling dissenting journalists from their areas.”
There is a special neglect towards the tribal journalists in the country that I have been a witness to. In terms of security, training and resources, the tribal journalists suffer the most. It is in-fact very ironic, as these reporters, stringers and photographers are in the front line of the war Pakistan is fighting. The media organization that these journalists work for also put them through unnecessary difficulties by not proving proper equipment and salaries. Most tribal journalists are not even paid for their work. In some cases a few local publications, ask to arrange advertisements, every time they want their byline published. Quite clearly, this is deliberately becoming a repugnant trade.
It is quite obvious that in such a situation, the financial challenges faced by these reporters make them indulge into irresponsible journalism and at times, outright misreporting.
What matters, is that ultimately journalism suffers and the stories that resultantly get out are either biased, favored or downright misleading. In order to make relevant space for truth to be told, a lot has to be done by the Government and the journalism industry itself. To say we celebrate the Press Freedom Day would be in-apt, as we are still besieged by our interpretation of Press Freedom in this country.