ISLAMABAD: A chronic state of apathy was on display on Monday as the two events held to mark the International Day for Ending Impunity for Crimes against Journalists in the capital saw a dismal turnout.

At the National Press Club in Islamabad, a couple of dozen journalists and activists held a demonstration to protest crimes against journalists, as well as decry the state’s unwillingness to investigate and punish those responsible in such cases.

Later, a civil society vigil held to honour the memories of Pakistan’s fallen journalists also saw meagre attendance, save a handful of senior journalists and media practitioners.

“In Pakistan, the culture of impunity has escalated to alarming levels; both in the cases of state and non-state actors,” said TV journalist Abid Khursheed.

He demanded that in these trying times, the otherwise divided Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) step up and play its role in ensuring that journalists are allowed to do their jobs without having to fear for their lives.

Seasoned reporter Matiullah Jan explained that when journalists demanded freedom of expression, they did not just mean it for themselves.

“It is freedom of expression for all citizens,” he said.

He pointed out that access to information was curtailed at all levels, which was why the general public was thirsty for information.

He derided the corrupt elements that resorted to killing journalists simply to cover up their dirty deeds and also flayed the “cowardly ministers who rush to cake cutting and other events and talk about press freedom, but forget about the impunity with which journalists’ murderers roam free”.

“These (political actors) couldn’t even get justice for the wrongs committed against them, what will they do to help us,” he said, in a pointed reference to the PML-N’s failure to pin anything on former military dictator Pervez Musharraf.

TV show host Abdul Sattar Khan criticised the journalist community for becoming complacent in the face of official apathy.

“I have grievances with my colleagues,” he said, adding that there were journalists who were unwilling to come to such demonstrations for fear of being labelled.

“We must put aside our differences for the greater cause,” he concluded.

This sentiment was echoed the same evening by Bilal Dar, Secretary General of the Rawalpindi-Islamabad Union of Journalists (RIUJ), who spoke at length about the hardships and harassment journalists had to face because of the things they reported on.

But the schism within the PFUJ remained a major stumbling block and some speakers referred to this disunity as one of the reasons why the fight to end impunity was not making headway.

When asked what impact these internal rivalries had on journalists’ response to tragedies involving their own, Mr Dar said that violence against journalists was not a new phenomenon, so the PFUJ divide could not be blamed for fomenting the violence that journalists had seen over the past decade or so.

Senior journalist Owais Tohid said that there was a lack of awareness among the journalist community regarding the invisible threats posed by state and non-state actors, many of which went unreported.

“In Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Fata, journalists often find themselves sandwiched between the security forces and militants,” he said, explaining the pitfalls of reporting from conflict zones and emphasising the need to ensure proper training, insurance cover and proper protective gear for journalists who worked in high-risk areas.

He also said that the fragmentation within the industry had come to the point where the Pakistan Broadcasters Association – the premiere electronic media association in the country – was also split and would always put the interests of channel owners first.

Published in Dawn, November 3rd, 2015

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