Pakistani media faces renewed threat

Published Jul 02, 2012 12:32pm

Being a journalist in Pakistan is not an easy job.

Global rights organisations have rated the country as one of the most dangerous for journalists and an increasing number of reporters being killed in the last two years has made it the deadliest in the world.

It is not uncommon for a Pakistani journalist, or their family, to live under a constant cloud of fear and intimidation. Reporters working in the field have been allegedly threatened, abducted, tortured and killed by armed political groups as well as state and non-state actors.

Time and again, reporters covering topics deemed sensitive have been individually targeted in Pakistan. Saleem Shahzad – a Pakistani journalist who had complained of receiving threats from the state’s spy agency – was abducted, tortured and then murdered last May. Wali Khan Babar, a Geo News reporter, was allegedly killed in Karachi by a political party’s armed wing in January 2011.

“Journalists are being targeted with impunity and the government has failed miserably to check this dangerous trend,” the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) had said in a statement following Babar’s murder last year.

While authorities have yet to unmask the culprits behind Shahzad and Babar’s murders, the voices of dissent in the Pakistani press continue to be silenced. Earlier this year, the bullet-riddled body of another reporter, Razzaq Gul, was recovered from Turbat in the troubled province of Balochistan.

A new dilemma While journalists have always been under threat on the field, they now face a new challenge back at their news organisations’ headquarters.

On the night of June 25, 2012, four gunmen on motorcycles attacked the offices of a Karachi-based news channel, Aaj TV, located in one of the busiest parts of the city. With just two people wounded, this was neither the deadliest attack on media-men, nor the first time that the Aaj TV office had been hit by armed assailants.

The channel had faced a similar assault five years ago, but this fresh attack was different in nature as it unveiled a new dilemma for the media.

The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for last week’s shooting on the office, claiming they had hit the channel for not giving full coverage to the Jihadi movement, and threatening further attacks on other media outlets that did not air the Taliban point of view.

The warning leaves media organisations caught between a rock and a hard place as they cover Pakistan’s war against militancy. An ordinance issued by Pemra, the government’s media regulatory body, prohibits news channels from accommodating the insurgents’ viewpoint, forbidding them from broadcasting “statements and pronouncements of militants and extremist elements.”

Ali Dayan Hasan, Director of Human Rights Watch (HRW) in Pakistan, calls the threat a “direct attack on media freedom.”

“We have seen repeated attacks on and threats to individual journalists by militant groups – particularly Al Qaeda and Taliban affiliates. However, the attack on Aaj TV is the first organised targeting of an entire media group with a view to coercing the industry into providing coverage more to the liking of the TTP. This is a direct attack on media freedom and is a chilling indication of how vulnerable journalists are not just in the field but now even in their offices and studios.”

Though the government was quick to condemn the incident, with the newly-elected prime minister issuing a statement the same night, some think the response was inadequate considering the attack was carried out against the industry and not just one organisation.

“There are two police vehicles now placed permanently outside our office, with Rangers personnel doing the rounds for further security,” says Rafiq Azad, a reporter for Aaj TV. “But, given this was an act of aggression not just against us but other news channels as well, this is not enough.”

“This was a sign of panic…an old tactic being reused by the terrorists to instill fear into the hearts and minds of the journalism community,” Information Minister Qamar Zaman Zaman Kaira told Dawn.com. “We condemn this and any such acts of terrorism. We have been in contact with some journalists’ bodies and associations, and the Pakistani government is willing to provide any sort of protection to the press.”

However, the response from journalists’ unions and associations was rather weak.

The attack also received little airplay on local media, compared to the international media’s coverage of the incident. A popular talk show aired the next day also focused on the same aspect.

“Unfortunately, what we saw was a backlash from other channels when reporting this incident. A few who did report [it] refrained from naming us or the Taliban, with some headlines calling it an ‘incident of firing at Gurumandir,’” complains reporter Rafiq Azad.

“Many elements of the media already present a Taliban-apologist narrative, as do many politicians, not just out of political sympathy but out of a desire for self-preservation,” says Hasan, the HRW’s country director. “[However], it is difficult to say whether the muted reaction to the attack on Aaj TV was a function of fear, incomprehension and indifference or a combination of all.”

“What is clear is that if the state allows recurrence of such attacks, it will have dangerous repercussions not just for the media but broader society as well,” says Hasan, who has also worked as a journalist in the past. “Unless addressed, this event is likely to have very serious consequences for both the security of media personnel and also media ethics. Unless journalists feel secure enough to report freely on the TTP, a level of self-censorship born of fear will be the very least of the issues that will arise.”

“Obviously, we are human beings…we are also part of the same society. We have families too. We, too, fear for our security,” says Azad. “But this is our job, this is what we do.”

The author is a multimedia journalist at Dawn.com.


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Comments (27) Closed




sandeep
Jul 03, 2012 07:14am
i was just saying that becoming a journalist is too dangerous,because if you tell the truth Taliban will kill you and if you don't tell the truth you will be doing injustice to your job.
sandeep
Jul 03, 2012 07:36am
your media works on conspiracy theories.
esrar
Jul 03, 2012 04:11pm
truth is always evergreen evergreen
shafiq
Jul 02, 2012 02:27pm
What is meaning of “free” media? That they can do and say whatever they want? If this is the case, then everyone in this country is fee. everyone can do and say whatevery they want. period! In other words, anyone who crosses their limits should be dealt.
Cyrus Howell
Jul 03, 2012 03:03am
"When even one American -- who has done nothing wrong -- is forced by fear to shut his mind and close his mouth, then all Americans are in peril." -- Harry S. Truman (founder of the United Nations)
Cyrus Howell
Jul 03, 2012 03:19am
"A Patriot is merely a rebel at the start. In the beginning of a change the patriot is a scarce man, and brave, and hated and scorned. When his cause succeeds, the timid join him, for then it costs nothing to be a patriot." -- Mark Twain
Rehan
Jul 03, 2012 04:41am
Media does not observe any ethics , limits or code of conduct . No wonder it manages to irritate people !!!
Humayun Khan
Jul 02, 2012 07:33pm
Sitting ten thousand miles away from my homeland of Pakistan, I agree that it's easy for me to encourage the media to continue its pusuit in unraveling the ugly truths of our society. However, in a society built on a corupt and incompetent infrastructure, I would advise all reporters to be prudent and smart with respect to how far they would like to drill down into the facts. I am not saying that they, the reporters, should start to lie about the facts but they have to be very smart as to not bring an uninvited and unintended calamity upon themselves. I salute all the brave and honest news media and its reporters of our country. To be a reporter in Pakistan is an uphill battle and is indeed a litmus test of your honesty and integrity. Bravo!
Syed
Jul 02, 2012 09:21pm
who said it's a free society? this govt. is an insult to democracy. period.
El Cid
Jul 02, 2012 10:10pm
Criticism is a double edged sword. When you allow one sided diatribes while the other side is hurting...when you shut down others mouth, their argument will vent through the barrel of a gun. Freedom of speech is a protector of truth in Journalism and of journalists in all pluralistic multi-ethnic societies—not police. Freedom of speech for all conflicting and opposing views is the best protection. Just and fair reporting is the ultimate defense. Clamp it down at your own peril.
SyedA
Jul 03, 2012 12:14pm
At least it is a democracy and the media is enjoying full freedom as in any other democracy or military form ever! Appreciate at least something, coz the anger of Taliban shows the freedom at least!
Saad (DXB)
Jul 02, 2012 02:59pm
and what's going on in India? The difference between our media and yours is that your media is 'Reactive' and 'Sensationalist', while ours is 'Proactive' and 'Realist'. Want proof? Check any article on this site. Most articles have more comments from Indians than Pakistanis.
sandeep
Jul 02, 2012 01:13pm
Becoming a journalist is the last thing you want to be in this country.
umair
Jul 03, 2012 02:11am
I hope every disaster in Pakistan lead to a new and positive begining.
Ahmed
Jul 04, 2012 07:17am
Media will always be attacked untill they start telling the truth.
Ali
Jul 04, 2012 07:12am
I'm sorry to say but when journalists start using their profession for money-making & black-mailing, then it has its repercussions. Dirty jobs have dirty side-effects. Be clean, be neutral, be truthful, you'll be respected like Tallat
sandeep
Jul 02, 2012 01:09pm
These people are unable to take criticism as in a free society.
sandeep
Jul 02, 2012 01:06pm
when there is a choice between writing the truth and living chose to live my dear friends.
shiraz Khan
Jul 03, 2012 08:21am
correct
sandeep
Jul 02, 2012 01:11pm
The country is undergoing a drastic change in its political system.The brutal force of power is also applied to the media.
Khizr
Jul 02, 2012 02:08pm
That is called cowardice Sandeep. It may suit you, but it is not for everyone.
haris
Jul 03, 2012 09:07am
And your media Invent theories out of no where and then make it a Conspiracy.
Khizr
Jul 02, 2012 02:05pm
Journalism is a noble profession and it is not for the weak of heart and comittment, specially in tough times. People without courage and motivation need not apply.
@BaBaJees
Jul 02, 2012 05:53pm
Attack on Media is WRONG! So is PEMRA's directive to be BIASED. We need independent journalism. Why does no one criticises the PEMRA act?
Nasser Ali Khan
Jul 02, 2012 05:33pm
May Allah protect all who are fighting the cause of justice and free expression. "Free expression" of terrorists must not be allowed as we do not really know who they are, they do not play by the rules, their organisation being underground, with no details of membership or common leadership, etc. The ISI and the top brass of the army are working against the nation for their own selfish needs. No wonder they are inept and being bullied by the US and the like.
SHAH KHALID
Jul 02, 2012 04:00pm
The country is undergoing a drastic change in its political system.The brutal force of power is also applied to the media. from shah khalid .
Nudrat
Jul 04, 2012 05:33am
Raise your voices though it will cost. To stand against corruption and crime is obligatory to all. May Allah help us all.