IN Pakistan, media personnel often have to carry out their duties in an extremely volatile and dangerous atmosphere. It is not just active conflict zones; cities can also become highly unstable, prone to acts of terrorism, riots or other disturbances.
Hence journalists must act with alacrity and caution, balancing their professional duties with awareness about when to pull back should things spiral out of control.
While numerous journalists have been killed for carrying out their duties in Pakistan over the years, the threats media persons face while covering live events are also a matter of concern. In this regard, it is a relief that a photojournalist associated with French news agency AFP is in stable condition now.
Asif Hassan was shot on Friday in Karachi as a clash broke out between the police and supporters of the Islami Jamiat-i-Talaba; the latter were marching on the French consulate in protest against the controversial caricatures published recently. It is unclear who shot the photographer, as in such situations it is difficult to affix responsibility without a proper investigation.
But irrespective of who is responsible, the incident highlights the threats journalists face while working in the field, as well as what can be done to minimise these hazards.
Firstly, it is clear that the onus is on the media organisations — both foreign and local — to ensure their employees have the protective gear and training necessary to deal with covering conflict situations.
For example, while covering riots or protests, flak jackets need to be worn, while emergency response training must also be given to journalists working in the field.
Also, while equipment is usually insured, those operating it are mostly not, which needs to change. While foreign media outlets are generally more responsible when it comes to sensitising employees about safety protocols, most local organisations need to do much more.
Getting the story is important, but much more so is the safety of media personnel.
Also read: Attack on journalists condemned
This is a message media organisations need to clearly communicate to their workers.
Published in Dawn January 18th , 2015