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Threat to journalists

Updated October 27, 2017

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RECENT events have once again highlighted the multi-dimensional threat to journalists in Balochistan.

Starting Monday, virtually no newspapers have been delivered in the province following calls to newspaper offices by banned separatist groups that they would prevent the distribution of papers for not publishing news about their activities.

Printing presses in Quetta have also reportedly been warned.

Fearing they too would be targeted, agents, hawkers and transporters have refused to distribute any dailies in the province. About two weeks ago, the Balochistan Liberation Front issued a press release in which they threatened violence against media owners and journalists for being complicit, they alleged, in the news blackout.

By any standard, even in a country where the media is constantly under pressure, Balochistan is the worst place to be a journalist.

This is not only on account of the number of journalists who have been killed in the province in connection with their work, but also because media persons are forced to navigate threats emanating from multiple quarters in order to stay alive.

There are feuding tribes with shifting allegiances, extremist organisations and ruthless insurgent groups, as well as instruments of the state, including the Frontier Corps, intelligence agencies and the military; all of which want to use the media to further their agendas.

For journalists, that means an impossibly delicate balancing act: if they appear to ‘favour’ one group, it places them in the cross hairs of another.

Journalism in Balochistan, especially where local papers are concerned — and about Balochistan in the case of national dailies — has thus been virtually reduced to a farce.

Self-censorship is rampant; human rights violations, particularly in more far-flung areas, go unreported; and editorialising is a bygone practice in local papers, because no editor can afford to articulate a point of view. Press freedom is complemented by another constitutionally protected right — the right to information.

Both rights are being violated.

The state which should distinguish its actions from those of non-state actors instead of resorting to the same tactics, is partly responsible.

Information is not only that which is deemed kosher by official quarters; journalists have a duty to document the news, whatever the news may be, and convey it to the public.

The fact is, even while threats such as those hurled by separatist groups in the last few days are condemnable, intimidation at the hands of everyone is a constant.

Published in Dawn, October 27th, 2017