THERE is as yet no true acknowledgment of the dangers to journalists in Balochistan. But the figures presented at a seminar in Quetta on Sunday point to the professional hazards faced by newsmen: 22 journalists are said to have died violent deaths — due to the existing law and order — in the province over the last four years. True, the toll may vary from source to source but the other information coming out of the seminar regarding these hazards, also reflected in the suppressed accounts that journalists come up with, reconfirms old details. Where disagreements take the ugliest and most violent forms, attempts to influence and muzzle the media act as an inevitable yardstick with which to gauge the extent of the problem. This is so painfully true of Balochistan.
Allegations about how journalists there are labelled as part of resistance groups, the instances where an agency, a political party or a sectarian or nationalist militant group places restrictions on reporters, cause the truth to be leaked even if the real events are concealed. This is precisely why the number of affected journalists in the province is disputed. Quite often, there is an exchange of heated arguments over whether a victim was a journalist or a troublemaker working under cover. This may not be an irrelevant debate, but the fact is all those who spoke at the seminar in Quetta on Sunday were recognised journalists. They were reluctant to name names but that would have been a formality when virtually everyone newsworthy in the range represents a threat. This leads to the blackout of news or news which, instead of conveying the desired ‘all-under control’ message, adds to the existing sense of uncertainty and fear. This is especially true for areas where the other option of an improvement in overall conditions has not been tried earnestly enough.