Saving journalists


Pakistan happens to be one of the deadliest countries for journalists is not news anymore. And that Pakistan continues to be on the list year after year is a sad affair, one that requires immediate measures from all stakeholders concerned – and not the mere lip service.

The Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF), an independent non-governmental organisation, in its latest report has highlighted 71 journalists losing their lives in the last 15 years in the line of duty.

What is more disturbing is that 47 of them were deliberately targeted and murdered, including some extremely high profile cases. What is sickening is that despite such high rate of violence targeted on journalists, Pakistan makes the top 10 of the Impunity Index compiled by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). Pakistan remains a country where the killings of journalists are not thoroughly investigated and prosecuted.

Being a frontline member in the war against terror, the backlash was always expected – and there is little wonder the areas of Fata, KPK and Balochistan were deeply affected. But the trend in the relatively less terrorism-prone areas of Sindh and Balochistan is disturbing to say the least.

The threat to journalists has stemmed from all corners – from terrorist organisations to banned outfits and even political parties, which are very much part of the democratic process.

The oft-occurring nature of the incidents has also taken a toll on quality of objective reporting from far-flung areas. Journalists are far and few between in some areas and the reliance is on press release and hearsay – a far cry from quality journalism. What needs to be done to eradicate is best left to the concerned authorities.

But something has to give and as suggested by the PPF, there needs to be conscious effort made to strategically and separately counter the threat to journalists. “A special prosecutor on violence against media should be established at federal and provincial level,” is one of the many recommendations made by the PPF to end impunity on journalists-related crimes.

It goes without saying that the media organisations, too, have a huge role to play, in terms of providing more safety to the journalists, adequate training, better co-ordination with law enforcement agencies and higher accidental compensation for journalists.

That said, the real impact will have to be made by the government – and that can only happen if the cases are prosecuted and investigated on a priority basis. Freedom of speech and a free and vibrant media are essential to a society’s progress, and all the stakeholders now need to unite and act. Pakistan can ill-afford being on the wrong end of journalists’ security.