Attacks on journalists

Published January 15, 2016

ON two occasions this week, journalists have been attacked or harassed by extremists and state authorities — alarmingly, the capital was the venue of both incidents.

First the house of a New York Times correspondent, who is also resident editor of The Nation newspaper, was searched by Rangers paramilitary, who were purportedly looking for a terrorist, and who kept asking him whether he possessed any illegal weapons.

Then the premises of ARY News were attacked with a grenade followed by gunfire before the attackers fled, leaving behind a leaflet claiming the assault was in retribution for not disseminating the militants’ point of view.

Pakistani journalists find themselves caught between the militants and the state. This is particularly true in KP and Balochistan, where reporters working in insurgency-prone areas are regularly threatened by both security forces and militants for reporting or not reporting on a particular story.

It is hard to reason with militants, but the security forces can be expected to show more respect for the work that journalists do.

It is not easy to report from places experiencing a long-running conflict, and journalists in such areas put the own lives and that of their family at risk. Pakistan’s media manages to do an admirable job under the circumstances despite being subjected to extreme pressures and must be supported by both the state and the media houses they work for.

Unfortunately, little action on this front has led to routine threats to journalists, a number of whom have been killed or injured in attacks. This must change.

In the ARY case, every effort must be made to locate the attackers and bring them to justice. And in the NYT correspondent’s case, the interior minister’s promise to conduct an inquiry must materialise.

He must ensure that whoever ordered the search by the Rangers is identified and asked to explain his actions. The state must see to it that attacking and harassing journalists does not go unpunished; it should act without fear or favour in this matter.

Published in Dawn, January 15th, 2016

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