An international watchdog group says Pakistan, where around 100 journalists are said to have been killed in the line of duty during the past 12 years, remains one of the world’s most dangerous countries for the press. In the latest World Press Freedom Index released by Reporters Without Borders, Pakistan dropped eight places, to 158th out of 179 countries.
The Paris-based Reporters Without Borders says that despite having a diverse and lively media, Pakistan remains one of the world’s most dangerous countries for journalists. It added that “the absence of any government policy to protect media workers” continued to hamper the ability of journalists to work freely in Pakistan.
Critics say the risks to the lives of journalists in Pakistan have increased because the rapid expansion of local media over the past decade, particularly private television channels, has coincided with the rise of terrorism and extremism in the country. Moreover, a low-level separatist insurgency in Baluchistan, along with sectarian, ethnic and politically-motivated attacks in the southwestern province, have also led to the killings of local journalists.
Officials acknowledge more needs to be done to provide a safe working environment for journalists. But they point out that Taliban and other insurgents have also killed thousands of security forces.
Deputy Information Minister Samsam Bukhari detailed the steps the Pakistani government is taking to address the concerns of journalists.
“We are coming up with [a] few programs like the journalists’ training in the war-trodden areas, journalists covering the areas with risk. And we are also coming up with a fund for their families – – God forbid, if something happens. So, yes, Pakistan is not a friendly environment [for journalists] but not the whole of Pakistan, just the areas where the war on terror is going on,” Bukhari said.
In the first month of 2013, Pakistan has already witnessed the deaths of three media workers. The victims had arrived at the scene of a low-intensity bomb blast in the city of Quetta minutes before another powerful bomb went off. The double bombings killed more than 80 people, mostly Shi’ite Muslims.
It is widely acknowledged that there is a lack of information and training for journalists in Pakistan before they are sent to conflict zones or to cover incidents like bomb explosions.
“The media houses don’t have security policies they do not prioritize the security of journalists. There are no, for instance, safety protocols or guidelines on security that are mandatory for journalists,” said Adnan Rehmat, the executive director of Intermedia, a Pakistani media watchdog.
Non-governmental local and foreign organizations have recently stepped up security training programs for Pakistani journalists working in the violence-hit districts.
Michael Mcauliffe is the resident journalism adviser in Pakistan with Internews, an international non-governmental organization working to empower local media worldwide.
“What we want to accomplish is trying to make sure journalists understand they are responsible for their safety, that when they are in the field they have to have to exercise the control over how close they are going to be. There are ways to cover stories without always placing yourself at such a significant degree of risk,” McAuliffe said.
Observers like Adnan Rehmat of Intermedia say that the failure to prosecute suspects involved in deadly attacks on journalists in Pakistan is also encouraging the violence. He says that if attacks on journalists are not properly investigated and the killers are not prosecuted and punished, then, “impunity will prevail in Pakistan in the foreseeable future”.
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