KARACHI: Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province is the most dangerous place for journalists, where 14 journalists were killed in the line of duty during last 11 years.
Balochistan with the murders of 14 journalists during the same period ranked second, followed by Sindh with 9 killings, FATA with 8, Punjab with 3 and federal capital Islamabad with 3, says a recent Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF) report on ‘Murder of Pakistani Journalists from January 2002 to November 2012’.
The reports says at least 48 journalists have been killed in the line of duty in Pakistan in last 11 years and 35 of them were deliberately targeted because of their work.
In 2012 alone, six journalists were killed in the country. For every journalist who has been deliberately targeted and murdered, there are many others who have been injured, threatened and coerced into silence.
Pakistani journalists are killed, unjustly detained, abducted, beaten and threatened by law enforcement and intelligence agencies, militants, tribal and feudal lords, as well as, some political parties that claim to promote democracy and the rule of law.
Sadly, the perpetrators of violence against journalists and media workers enjoy almost absolute impunity in Pakistan.
Of the 48 journalists killed in the line of duty during these 11 years, 14 were from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 12 from Balochistan, nine from Sindh, eight from Federally Administrated Tribal Agencies (FATA), three from Punjab and two from the federal capital, Islamabad.
Of 48 journalists killed, twenty-five were shot; three targeted in suicide attacks, seven killed in suicide bomb blasts, nine abducted before murder, while four killed in crossfire.
While formal criminal complaints (First Information Reports) were lodged, the murders of media workers were not seriously investigated or prosecuted.
Over the last ten years, the murder of Daniel Pearl, reporter for the US-based Wall Street Journal, was the lone case of murder of journalist in Pakistan where suspects were prosecuted and convicted.
This is why Pakistan is among the list of shame prepared by the US-based Committee to Protect Journalists of those countries that do not investigate and prosecute murders of journalists.
Because of the Afghanistan war and the so called war on terror, areas bordering Afghanistan – Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan and FATA – are the most dangerous areas for journalists.
Journalists in FATA, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan work under extremely stressful conditions with pressure being wielded by security agencies, militant groups, district administration and tribal leaders.
In many instances security agencies or militant organisations require journalists to get ‘clearance’ from them before releasing their new reports.
Journalists from Balochistan, in particular, face violence and threats from security and intelligence agencies, as well as, ethnic, sectarian and separatist groups.
Pakistani journalists are often caught between competing power centers.
For example recently the Balochistan High Court directed journalists not to report news of banned organizations; while these banned organizations exert pressure on local media to give them ‘proper’ coverage.
The alarming increase in violence and threats has forced many journalists to migrate from these danger zones.
According to some estimates, one-third of FATA journalists has already moved to other areas or gave up the profession, says the report released on the occasion of International Day to End Impunity for Violence against Journalists.
Free media is essential to democracy in Pakistan as it promotes transparency and accountability, a prerequisite of sustained economic uplift.
The impunity enjoyed by those who attack journalists is seriously hampering press freedom in Pakistan and all stakeholders, including media organisations, the government and civil society should join hands to devise some mechanisms for ensuring safety of working journalists.
PPF recommended that criminal cases should be registered, investigated and prosecuted against the perpetrators of violence against media.
An independent commission comprising professional media organisations, CSOs, press freedom and human rights organisations and professional bodies of lawyers should be established for monitoring criminal investigations and legal follow-up of cases of violence and intimidation of journalists.
Local, national and international print, electronic and online media should ensure long-term follow up of cases of assault on media organisations and workers Journalists should be provided with safety and first aid trainings and guidance on how to report in hostile environment.
Journalists working in conflict areas should also be provided with guidance in recognizing and dealing with stress and post-traumatic stress.
Safety equipments including bulletproof jackets and medical kits should be given to journalists covering the conflicts.
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 imparted trainings on writing skills, language proficiency, editing and interviewing techniques to enhance their capabilities.
Employers should provide journalists life and medical insurance and also compensation in case of death or injury related to their work.
As Pakistani journalists are victims of circumstances that are both local and global in nature, the government should also compensate to the families of journalists, killed in the line of duty.
Proper medical treatment, including treatment abroad, should be provided to media workers who have been subjected to violence.
In addition to compensation by employers and government, funds should be set up for families of journalists who had been murdered or injured.
These funds could be operated by the immediate families of the victimized journalists.
There is need to for media organisations to develop ‘operating procedures’ with law enforcement agencies that will allow journalists to cover the conflict situations with greater safety.
Arrangements should be made in all major cities to provide refuge and safe houses for the journalists who are forced to leave their homes so that they can live and work in safer cities.
Media organisations should interact with all stakeholders including government departments, political parties and groups and security agencies to develop strategies that promote safety of journalists and other media workers.
Employers should give journalists facing threats the option of transferring them to safer cities for extended periods of time.
The remunerations during these periods should be based on the actual living expenses in these cities, which are generally higher than rural areas.
At times, insensitive and misinformed editors push their reporters and photojournalists into the situations where they have to put their life and well-being at risk for getting the stories.
There is a need to create awareness and sensitizing the owners of the media organizations, as well as, those who are working on desk to realize the ground realities and threats being faced by the journalists working in fields especially in conflict areas.