KARACHI: Fifty-five journalists have been killed in the line of duty in Pakistan in the last ten years, and 36 of them were deliberately targeted and murdered because of their work, says Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF) in its latest report on Friday.
“For every journalist who has been deliberately targeted and murdered, there are many others who have been injured, threatened and coerced into silence. Sadly, the perpetrators of violence against journalists and media workers enjoy almost absolute impunity in Pakistan. This is seriously hampering press freedom in the country,” PPF said.
It said the alarming increase in violence and threats has forced many journalists to migrate from these danger zones, and intimidation has forced others to self-censor, particularly in the conflict areas. “Because of this, reports about military action by Pakistani law enforcement agencies, drone attacks by the US forces or attacks by militants are largely based on press releases and not on observations by independent journalists.“
PPF said: “In such a violently polarised atmosphere, everything becomes controversial, whether it is education for girls or polio vaccination. However, security issues remain the biggest threat for journalists. Because of the Afghanistan war, the so-called “war on terror”, and a simmering separatist movement, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, FATA (Federally Administrated Tribal Agencies) and Balochistan are the most dangerous areas for journalists. Of the 55 journalists killed in the line of duty since 1994, 42 were working in one of these regions. In terms of who are the perpetrators, because of the lack of credible, independent investigations, the murders remain shrouded in mystery, with allegations being made against the usual suspects, namely, militant groups, intelligence agencies and separatists.”
PPF said reporting, especially in rural and conflict areas, remains almost exclusively a male domain. It further said the situation in the newly emerging television sector is slightly better, as women who report for television are accompanied by a team including camerapersons and producers which provides more security. Still, eve teasing – the public sexual harassment or molestation of women by men – is endemic in Pakistan society. “Neither media employers, unions or press clubs have gone much beyond empty lip service to promote the sense of safety that would encourage women to enter the field of reporting in substantial numbers.”
Increasing violence against the media has impelled PPF to work even harder with both national and international media organisations. In March 2013, PPF played due role at the International Conference on Safety and Security of Pakistani Journalists: Promoting Collaborative Approaches to Combat Impunity, which resulted in the formation of the Pakistan Coalition on Media Safety (PCOMS).
“PCOMS supports the UN Action Plan Against Impunity as well as its focus on Pakistan as one of the pilot countries, and aims to help, support and reinforce its implementation. I believe this coalition marks an important development in the fight against impunity for those who attack media professionals and institutions. It will act as a coordinating body, mapping the various safety initiatives, providing a forum to coordinate efforts, and helping us all work towards a single outcome. PPF also agreed to host the Secretariat of Host of PCOMS,” said Owais Aslam Ali, Chairman, PPF.
He said PPF believes that many steps are essential to end impunity for those who attack journalists and media workers including. Criminal cases should be registered, investigated and prosecuted against the perpetrators of violence against media. Local, national and international print, electronic and online media should ensure long-term follow up of cases of assault on media organisations and workers,” he added.
PPF is of the view that threats and attacks can be reduced to some extent by adopting a professional approach and impartial and unbiased reporting. Journalists, especially those in rural areas, should be given training in writing skills, language proficiency, editing and interviewing techniques to enhance their capabilities. “There is need to form media organisations to develop ‘operating procedures’ with law enforcement agencies that will allow journalists to cover the conflict situations with greater safety,” it said.
“At times, insensitive and misinformed editors push their reporters and photojournalists into situations where they have to put their life and well-being at risk to get stories. There is a need to create awareness and sensitise the owners and editors to the realities and threats being faced by the journalists, especially those working in conflict areas,” PPF concluded.
PPF is an independent media research, documentation and research centre committed to raising the standards of journalism and promoting and defending freedom of expression in Pakistan, and internationally.