Hundreds of journalists continue facing threats on daily basis. The purpose is to stop these journalists from reporting the facts
Pakistan has been termed as the second most dangerous country for journalists in the world by the United Nations. Explosives found under the car of a prominent Pakistani Journalist, Hamid Mir, a few days back illustrates that there are some groups operating in the country that do not want independent news coverage.
A common perception is that the Taliban are responsible for violence against the journalists. And these perceptions cannot be entirely wrong. The likely attempt on Hamid Mir’s life is being attributed to Hamid Mir’s stance on Malala. However, since the killing of Saleem Shahzad, spy agencies in the country have also emerged as a major threat to journalists’ security.
According to a report in the Christian Science Monitor, filed by Taha Siddiqui, both the government and country’s military offer bribes to journalists to ensure a favorable press.
These matters came up during an insightful talk on ‘Dangers of Reporting in the Tribal Areas’ by Kiran Nazish at LUMS held on December 3. Kiran Nazish, a journalist who has reported from the Tribal Areas, described many alarming journalistic norms that are pretty normal in conflict areas of Pakistan.
Talking to the LUMS community, Nazish said journalists reporting from conflict areas, in a situation of war, “are targeted both by militant groups as well as the military.”
She claimed that the spy agencies were also blamed for the abductions and killings of many journalists in the country. She pointed out the cases of reporters like Pir Zubair Shah, Malik Siraj and Saleem Shahzad. Life attempt on Pir Zubair Shah and the assassination of Saleem Shahzad were blamed on spy masters. Malik Siraj Akbar went in exile on receiving life threats. He also pointed finger at the secret services.
Saleem Shahzad reportedly earned the wrath of secret agencies owing to his bold reports appearing on the Asia Times Online. He exposed certain aspects of Pakistan military with regard to ‘war on terror’. He was abducted from Islamabad and brutally tortured to death.
Similarly, Malik Siraj continuously received threats on email and twitter. He was ‘advised’ not to report against the military. Following these threats, Malik Siraj sought asylum in the USA. Now he lives as an exile in Washington DC.
“But Malik Siraj continues to run an online edition of otherwise proscribed Baluch Hal. He writes about the plight of Baluch people,” Nazish said.
Hundreds of journalists continue facing threats on daily basis. The purpose is to stop these journalists from reporting the facts.
According to Nazish, an atmosphere of fear has cultivated a culture of self-censorship. “Most of the Urdu- as well as English-language media outlets are reluctant when it comes to the coverage of armed militants, the military and ISI,” said Nazish.
As a result to get around the unofficial censorship, Nazish says, local tribal reporters, in particular, file reports on ‘controversial’ matters to the foreign news agencies. “Once the foreign agencies run a story, it is picked up by local newspapers and reported second-hand,” Nazish pointed out.
The talk demonstrated the high level of risk associated with journalistic assignment in Pakistan. Hence, no surprise if Pakistan is declared the most dangerous country in the world for Journalists. However, according to Nazish, “that does not mean journalism is dying or reporters can’t find a way to tell the story. Pakistan may be the most dangerous place for journalists but still not the most censored one.” Perhaps, there is always an alternative! A strategically alternative way to do what journalists should do.Tell the story.