Editorial
Most of the journalism we do in this country is statistics-driven. Unfortunately, in our context, the statistics often indicate bad news. On most days, the number of people killed is what determines the headline and its placement. The number of drop-outs and out of school children is the statistic when we choose to discuss education. And so on.  
The scale of our misfortune is boundless, it seems. Here, often times in recent years, journalists have become news themselves. That too starts with a statistic — 83 journalists killed since the year 2000. This is now indeed a specialised area; those who are looking at this dangerous trend have come up with region- and year-wise breakup of data. The details are scary. They become scarier when one realises the extent of impunity regarding crimes against journalists.  

overview
The one common thing that ties the killings of all 83
journalists save one (Daniel Pearl) is that their killers have never been found, 
prosecuted or punished. However, without invoking legal process, impunity 
cannot begin to be scaled back
By Adnan Rehmat  
By now nearly all related stakeholders — including the national and international communities – have a decent idea about the scale of impunity against journalists in Pakistan. We all know, for instance, that reporting is a tough job in Pakistan. The country has been rated the most dangerous place to practise journalism on the planet for two years running — 2011 and 2012 — by Reporters Without Borders.

Plan of action
A combination of individual responsibility by media practitioners and media houses, and a collaborative approach by key stakeholders
By Adnan Rehmat  
If journalists in Pakistan and the media they work for are under attack, as the screaming statistics show, what would constitute a desired response mechanism that can combat this impunity meaningfully and effectively? What can help is a combination of individual responsibility on the part of media practitioners and media houses on the one hand and a determinedly collaborative approach on the other hand by key stakeholders ranging from the state to the civil society and an alliance between national and international communities.  

support
Internal threats
In most cases, the journalists fail to gauge the level of threat. But is that a correct assessment?
By Aoun Sahi  
Abdul Haq Baloch, a TV reporter and general secretary of Khuzdar Press Club in Balochistan, was shot dead by unidentified men on September 29, 2012. The worst part of the story was that he had been threatened for several weeks before his murder. He had also intimated the district administration, the management of his media group and the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) about the threats, but could not avert the situation.  

Legal recourse and more
Having a special law for journalists might be one of theoptions, till we get there, the investigations and prosecution has to be done within the mainstream legal system
By Asad Baig  
Since 2000, over 80 journalists have been killed, hundreds threatened, harassed, intimidated, abducted and attacked. Most of the cases go unregistered, and investigations for those that can even boast the basic FIR, are endlessly and sometimes deliberately delayed and perpetrators roam free. So, what is the reason behind the lack of legal follow-up of journalist murders?  

Popular disbelief
Blaming the victim is still the name of the game in Pakistan
By Sadaf Baig  
On November 25, 2012, one of Pakistan’s best known journalists Hamid Mir escaped an assassination attempt when an IED (improvised explosive device) rigged to his car was discovered and defused. The next day, Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility for planting the explosive and vowed to make another attempt to kill him. In a country where over 80 journalists have been killed since 2000, the threat to Mir couldn’t get any more real. However, the public reaction to this life attempt was suspicion at best.  

UN aid

UN Action Plan for Pakistan seeks to promote a collaborative approach
By Phyza Jameel  
The Committee to Protect Journalists in 2012 named 12 countries — including Pakistan, Iraq, Russia, the Philippines, Afghanistan and Mexico — in its annual “impunity index” because they allow deadly violence against the press to go unpunished, calling for a global agenda to shape up around the growing concern of nations around the globe to address this problem collectively.  

 



 



 

 

 

Editorial

Most of the journalism we do in this country is statistics-driven. Unfortunately, in our context, the statistics often indicate bad news. On most days, the number of people killed is what determines the headline and its placement. The number of drop-outs and out of school children is the statistic when we choose to discuss education. And so on.

The scale of our misfortune is boundless, it seems. Here, often times in recent years, journalists have become news themselves. That too starts with a statistic — 83 journalists killed since the year 2000. This is now indeed a specialised area; those who are looking at this dangerous trend have come up with region- and year-wise breakup of data. The details are scary. They become scarier when one realises the extent of impunity regarding crimes against journalists.

This is the subject of today’s Special Report. Intermedia Pakistan, a national advocacy, research and training organisation is not just involved with compiling the statistics but is actively pursuing an agenda, along with the international community which is equally concerned about “the scale of impunity against journalists”, to develop a national plan to combat it.

We at TNS therefore requested the Intermedia to help us share the details behind this horrendous statistic that concerns us basically. But it is not just about us; the crimes against journalists are a reflection of the society we are shaping. They clearly involve the state, in preventing this from happening and in providing assistance, legal recourse etc.

There are a host of issues discussed here in all the reports but one thing which remains hazy is the charge that journalists become vulnerable when they cross the ‘red line’. What is a ‘red line’ for a journalist in Pakistan? Does that mean that she is not performing her duties professionally and is giving one-sided reports? Or does it mean that she is venturing into areas that fall into the ‘national interest’ domain, which essentially is dominated by one institution?

In either case, are we trying to say that the journalists who cross the red line deserve nothing less than death? Are we saying these 83 journalists lost their lives because they were careless and hence deserved to die.

This perhaps is too harsh a judgment, even when conceding that the media houses share a responsibility to train and equip and protect their staffers in the best possible way.

 



 

overview
The one common thing that ties the killings of all 83 
journalists save one (Daniel Pearl) is that their killers have never been found, 
prosecuted or punished. However, without invoking legal process, impunity 
cannot begin to be scaled back
By Adnan Rehmat

By now nearly all related stakeholders — including the national and international communities – have a decent idea about the scale of impunity against journalists in Pakistan. We all know, for instance, that reporting is a tough job in Pakistan. The country has been rated the most dangerous place to practise journalism on the planet for two years running — 2011 and 2012 — by Reporters Without Borders.

On the issue of impunity against journalists, the right to exercise freedom of expression, indirect censorship offline and direct censorship online, the country has also consistently ranked amongst the worst performers on these subjects on annual indices of organisations such as the Committee to Protect Journalists, Article IX, Freedom House, etc.

Looked at from any angle, the scale of impunity against journalists in Pakistan is staggering. According to data provided by the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) and Intermedia Pakistan, over 2,000 journalists have experienced harassment, intimidation, kidnap, arrest, detention, assault and injury since January 2000. That’s an average of 166 cases every year for 12 years, or 6 cases a month. In the same period, the number of journalists verifiably killed through specific targeting or those who lost their lives in deliberate terrorism-related violence (such as suicide attacks and bomb blasts) while out in the field reporting — in other words, killed in the line of duty — is at least 83. That in itself is an average of 7 journalists killed every year since 2000 or one every two months.

Breaking down the 12-year period under review into the first seven years (2000 to 2006) and the last 5 years (2007 to 2012), the statistics become more menacing. During 2000 and 2006, a total of 18 journalists were killed at an average of 2.5 every year or one about every 5 months. In the last 5 years — from 2007 to end 2012 — the number of journalists killed shoot up to 65. That’s 13 every year or, staggeringly, one every 28 days.

The statistics tell another story when seen in the context of killings every year and regions where the journalists were killed as well as the ways in which they were eliminated. During 2000 and 2007, the worst year for journalists was 2005 when 5 were killed while 4 each were eliminated in 2003 and 2006. But from 2007 to end 2012, no less than 9 have been killed each year with 13 losing their lives in 2007. At least 12 each were killed in 2010 and 2011 and 9 each in 2009 and in the first 11 months of 2012 while 10 were killed in 2008.

The statistics, compiled by Intermedia Pakistan, also show that contrary to belief, Sindh is the most dangerous territory in Pakistan to practise journalism with 23 killed in 12 years, including 17 in the last 5 years. The second worst place to be a journalist is Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa with a total of 18 killed in 12 years (14 in the last 5) with a close third being Balochistan with 17 journalists killed since 2000. But when measured for the last 5 years (2007-12), Balochistan has been the worst place to be a journalist in Pakistan with all 17 killings coming in these 5 years. The Tribal Areas (Fata) and Punjab are tied for the fourth worst place to practise journalism with 11 killings each — most in both cases occurring in the last 5 years. Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Kashmir seem to be the safest places in Pakistan journalism-wise, with no killings (of journalists) recorded there. Even Islamabad ‘scored’ 3 killings.

It is also telling how these 83 journalists were killed. No less than 63 were sought out and shot dead in cold blood. Which means that in four-fifths of the killings, the work of these journalists massively upset the actors who killed them. Of those eliminated, 12 journalists were abducted before being killed and their bodies dumped to be found to serve as warnings. At least 5 of these were brutally tortured in captivity before they were killed. Two were beheaded and one hanged. At least 10 journalists were killed in suicide attacks while they were out reporting on assignment and another 4 in bomb attacks. While these 14 were not direct targets, their killings demonstrate the violent environment in which they work and which poses a major risk to journalists in the field. At least one was target-killed in a bomb attack with his car rigged with explosives designed to go off when he opened it to drive.

The one common thing that ties the killings of ALL these 83 journalists save one (Daniel Pearl) is that their killers have never been found, prosecuted or punished. This is called impunity. “Exemption or freedom from punishment, harm or loss” — the definition of impunity. Not the state, not the media organisations they worked for and not their families have been able to pursue justice, which allows for the killings of journalists — and non-fatal but dangerous and disturbing intimidation and harassment — to go on unabated.

How can this impunity stop? Through a variety of actions and approaches as outlined in other stories of this Special Report in these pages. However, without invoking the legal process, impunity cannot begin to be scaled back. Most journalists killed come from lower income backgrounds because of which after they are killed their families cannot pursue the vagaries of expensive and confusing justice system. And because most of these journalists are not formal, full-time or contracted employees, their media organisations don’t see them as “their” employees and, therefore, don’t pursue justice for them. As for the state — its larger political problems and eroding capacities means it is not pushed when the families and employers don’t, or can’t, be bothered.

The minimum solution is a legal aid mechanism and a safety fund for journalists that can step in as interim measures, for starters, and then become institutionalised. Intermedia Pakistan already runs a safety fund that offers a variety of assistance — from medical aid to counselling and from financial aid to families of journalists killed to relocation in-country for journalists under threat. It is now also launching a media legal aid programme to formally start legal challenges against impunity by taking up cases of journalists in distress in courts through a cadre of lawyers trained in media defence. These are small parts of efforts that are assuming a national profile through an alliance on safety being established and which will soon assume international dimensions when the UN Action Plan on Impunity Against Journalists is launched in Pakistan in early 2013 as part of a global pilot programme in 5 countries.

Adnan Rehmat is Executive Director of Intermedia Pakistan, a national advocacy, research and training organisation. He is a development communications specialist and an analyst on media and political issues

 

Journalists killed — geographic and yearly

breakdown

Year          Balochistan    KP          Punjab          Sindh          Fata          Islamabad     Total  

2000             -          -          -          1          -          -          1       

2001             -          -          1          -          -          -          1       

2002             -          -          1          1          -          -          2       

2003             -          1          -          3          -          -          4       

2004             -          1          -          -          -          -          1       

2005             -          1          1          -          3          -          5       

2006             -          1          -          1          1          1          4       

2007             -          2          -          8          1          2          13     

2008             3          3          2          1          1          -          10     

2009             1          4          3          -          1          -          9       

2010             4          1          1          2          4          -          12     

2011             4          3          2          3          -          -          12     

2012             5          1          -          3          -          -          9       

                    17          18          11          23          11          3          83     

Source: Intermedia Pakistan

 

Journalists killed – types of killings

Nature of death           Number of journalists         

Shot dead

(killed at close range/target killed)            62     

Abducted before being killed             12     

Tortured before being killed             5       

Beheaded                                   2       

Hanged                                      1       

Killed in a suicide bombing while reporting          10     

Killed in a bomb blast while reporting          4       

Killed in a targeted car bomb blast               1       

Source: Intermedia Pakistan

 

 

 

 

 

 

Plan of action
A combination of individual responsibility by media practitioners and media houses, and a collaborative approach by key stakeholders
By Adnan Rehmat

If journalists in Pakistan and the media they work for are under attack, as the screaming statistics show, what would constitute a desired response mechanism that can combat this impunity meaningfully and effectively? What can help is a combination of individual responsibility on the part of media practitioners and media houses on the one hand and a determinedly collaborative approach on the other hand by key stakeholders ranging from the state to the civil society and an alliance between national and international communities.

The key to combating impunity against journalists in Pakistan is consensus and an action plan that identifies both principal stakeholders and their respective roles and responsibilities that can launch a series of actions that constitute both a pre-emptive regime and a reactive response. This consensus and a clearly defined roadmap have already emerged through two landmark initiatives in November 2012.

The first one was by the United Nations through their UNESCO office in Pakistan that held a national consultation that produced a declaration outlining recommendations on combating impunity from key stakeholders, including the state, parliament and media that was then taken to the second UN Inter-Agency Meeting on Impunity in Vienna the same month.

The second was at a national conference on developing a roadmap to combat impunity attended by key media representative associations including All Pakistan Newspaper Society (APNS), Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors (CPNE), Pakistan Broadcasters Association (PBA), Pakistan News Agencies Council (PNAC), Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), All Pakistan Newspaper Employees Confederation (APNEC), Pakistan Association of Independent Radio Stations (PAIRS), Ministry of Information & Broadcasting and press clubs and regional union of journalists from Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar, Quetta and Islamabad.

The UNESCO consultation declaration outlined recommendations that are likely to become part of the UN Action Plan for Pakistan on Impunity Against Journalists effective 2013. Among others, it seeks “firmer commitment from the Government of Pakistan towards the issue of impunity and security of journalists and for concrete and continuous actions towards developing enabling legal frameworks, reviewing and implementing existing laws, building more robust prosecuting mechanisms, and strengthening relevant national policies.” It also calls for “more effective, inclusive and coordinated  initiatives by the UN System, including continuous monitoring and reporting of the implementation of the UN Security Council Resolution 1738 on the safety of journalists in conflict and an end to impunity” as well as urges the “One UN in Pakistan …..to mainstream this issue into its developmental and humanitarian activities in 2013 to 2017.”

The conference, in a signed declaration, formally outlined a National Action Plan to Combat Impunity that puts an emphasis on a collaborative approach. This plan also offers a role model for implementation in the other four UN Plan of Action countries and found wide backing at the UN conference in Vienna. The outcomes of the national consultation offer the surest bet yet to effectively combat impunity and increase protections for Pakistani journalists.

 caption

The scale of impunity against journalists in Pakistan is staggering.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

support
Internal threats
In most cases, the journalists fail to gauge the level of threat. But is that a correct assessment?
By Aoun Sahi

Abdul Haq Baloch, a TV reporter and general secretary of Khuzdar Press Club in Balochistan, was shot dead by unidentified men on September 29, 2012. The worst part of the story was that he had been threatened for several weeks before his murder. He had also intimated the district administration, the management of his media group and the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) about the threats, but could not avert the situation.

A majority of the journalists killed (motive confirmed) in Pakistan during the last two decades were aware of the level of threat they had got, yet they failed to help themselves. For instance, Hayatullah Khan, a journalist from North Waziristan who was kidnapped in January 2006 and found dead six months later, is known to carry AK-47 when he was out reporting.

Iqbal Khattak, a Peshawar-based senior journalist and the Pakistan representative of Reporters Without Borders, says that in most cases the journalist fail to gauge the level of threat. “Journalists [in Pakistan] hardly take risks into consideration when they are out to report. Simple, pre-cautionary measures can minimise the threat level by 50-60 per cent,” he says.

“If you look closely into the murder cases of journalists in Pakistan, you would find that at least in 60 per cent cases they crossed the red line knowingly or unknowingly. It is mainly because they were never trained how to handle certain situations and avoid one-sided stories. Most of them were not even trained how to keep a professional interaction with different parties in conflict areas,” he says.

Khattak believes that both trade unions of journalists as well as the media houses should sit together and think up a solution. “Media houses should understand that productivity of journalists is badly affected if they are working in constant fear. The PFUJ and media owners are required to develop a general safety procedure as soon as possible.”

The significance of “red line” varies from region to region, says Rahimullah Yusufzai, a senior journalist based in the conflict-ridden Peshawar. “For conflict areas, even reporting facts would tantamount to crossing the red line for some stakeholders. It is too hard to report in these regions.”

Conversely, he says, if the journalists take care of the so-called “red line” (while reporting), they cannot do journalism.”

Yusufzai believes that a lot of young people who have come into journalism in the last few years like to exercise caution. “In most cases, the attackers give warnings to their targets and the intelligence agencies give signals of displeasure, but the journalists wouldn’t take these lightly.

“It hardly helps to share information with their media outlets. Only some international media houses can facilitate relocating the threatened journalists; the local media houses generally show care for the threat level. Journalists working in conflict zones need to understand that they are on their own,” he declares.

Balochistan where recently two press clubs — Khuzdar and Panjgur — have been shut down because of security issues is seen as among the most dangerous region. “Most journalists working in interior Balochistan not only lack training and education but also exposure. They are unsafe but still cross the red line out of excitement. They need to understand that the militant forces, whether religious, sectarian or nationalist, have not spared the security forces too. They only need proofs to attack the journalists. While on the other hand, the intelligence agencies have their own definition of national interest,” says Shahzada Zulfiqar, a Quetta based journalist and former president of the Balochistan Union of Journalists (BUJ).

According to Zulfiqar, over the years the militants have become “more media conscious. Threats and attacks can be reduced to some extent by adopting a professional approach and doing impartial and unbiased reporting.”

He adds that the role of media owners and the PFUJ becomes too important in the training of journalists especially those coming from rural areas. “Trade unions have been weakened over the years while media group owners are not interested in ensuring the security of their workers. I have never seen any media organisation arrange training sessions on reporting in conflict zones.”

The journalists are also not insured. A few months back, a photojournalist of a leading Urdu newspaper was injured in an attack while covering an event and had to be admitted in hospital. “His paper, instead of providing him medical facility, deducted his five days’ (spent in hospital) salary,” says Zulfiqar.

He also says that journalists are often caught between competing power centres. “The Balochistan High Court recently directed journalists not to report news of banned organisations. On the other hand, these [banned organisations] exert pressure on local media to give them ‘proper’ coverage.”

Safdar Hayat Dawar, President, Tribal Union of Journalists, says that journalism has become too tough a profession over the years. “Journalists are the sole means of information in many parts of troubled tribal areas of Pakistan but many of them have left the profession because of security threats. The ground realities have also changed in tribal areas as war lords and other stakeholders understand the importance of media and try to use it against their enemies.”

Pervaiz Shaukat, President, PFUJ, says that to ensure the protection of journalists in a country where the security forces are not safe is no child’s play. The PFUJ has been striving to train journalists and enable them to work in the face of threats. “We need to fight the menace of breaking news,” he insists. “It forces journalists to take undue risks.

“Over the last few years, we have helped 25 journalists who were under threat, to relocate to safer places for a period of about two months.”

He also stresses on the need for unity among ranks of journalists in tackling the problem. “We lack it badly. Believe me, in the Saleem Shahzad case, the journalist community wasn’t forthcoming in helping the commission established to probe the murder.”

We are ready to sit with the Pakistan Broadcasters Association (PBA) and the All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS) to formulate standard operating procedures (SOPs) for journalists’ security. “But in a country where it took 12 years to get wage board implemented, you think it would be easy to convince the owners to provide for the security of journalists?

“It is ironic that camera, technical equipment and Digital Satellite News Gathering (DSNG) vans are insured but the cameramen and reporters using these gadgets are not. It speaks for the owners’ interest in the protection of their workers.

“The journalists should never report in conflict zones without having taken proper safety measures, though a lot of them don’t even care about these things,” says Pervaiz Shaukat.

caption

Unity among the ranks of journalists in tackling the problem is the need of the day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Legal recourse and more
Having a special law for journalists might be one of theoptions, till we get there, the investigations and prosecution has to be done within the mainstream legal system
By Asad Baig

Since 2000, over 80 journalists have been killed, hundreds threatened, harassed, intimidated, abducted and attacked. Most of the cases go unregistered, and investigations for those that can even boast the basic FIR, are endlessly and sometimes deliberately delayed and perpetrators roam free. So, what is the reason behind the lack of legal follow-up of journalist murders?

“In case of a journalist’s killing, unless the family comes and charges a particular person, our criminal justice system completely fails. If the family of a victim nominates an accused, there is a chance of some investigations but otherwise none,” says Kamran Arif, a prominent lawyer and co-chair of Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP).

Journalist unions express similar helplessness. Amin Yousuf, General Secretary, Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) says, “It’s impossible to get legal support in cases of threats and killing of journalists. Investigation and prosecution aside, not even an FIR has been registered in some cases. We have no legal protection at all. We have no resources to pursue the cases of slain journalists in the courts.”

Activists working on journalist safety issues have often lamented the lack of a supporting legal framework that allows journalists’ murders to be properly investigated. PFUJ also holds the same position: “We have no legal resources to pursue the cases of slain journalists in courts. What we need is a network of trained lawyers to help us reopen investigations and cope with regular proceedings.”

Saif-ul-Islam Saifi, President, Peshawar Press Club, deals with the reality of threats to journalists on daily basis. His province Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa is notorious for journalists being targeted. According to Saifi, “The current legal mechanisms and laws are not effective. The situation will not improve unless special measures are taken. There is a need for legislation for journalists’ safety without the usual complexities of current laws and the draft bill has to be prepared with all stakeholders on board.”

A special law to protect free journalism is not a new concept. Multiple high-risk countries have experimented with different models of designating a special prosecutor for journalist killings. Among the most recent examples is Mexico. A high risk region for journalists, Mexico, has recently federalised crimes against journalists and introduced laws to protect journalists/human rights defenders and a Special Prosecutor’s Office for Crimes against Free Expression (FEADLE). But while the Mexican government has been swift in introducing new mechanisms, international watchdogs have termed them ‘inadequate and ineffective’.

Can a similar model work in Pakistan? Kamran Arif of HRCP remains sceptical. “Prosecutors in our scheme of things don’t make a lot of difference; it’s the investigation which has to be almost completely in the hands of police. Part of the problem is a lack of will, but it’s also their lack of ability to investigate. The government has to be serious about it. There might be special investigators for killings but a special prosecutor might not be that effective,” he explains.

The futility of special measures for investigation and prosecution in the current set-up in Pakistan has been highlighted in the past. Hayat Ullah case is one example. “A high-level commission was formed to investigate his killing but its report, even after some years of its completion, has not been made public yet,” says Saifi.

The constitution of a special investigative commission to investigate the more recent Saleem Shahzad’s murder was touted as a giant step forward. However, the report did not go beyond hinting at a possible involvement of intelligence agencies but did not charge anyone in particular. Interior Minister Rehman Malik has often made public promises to the media to investigate journalists’ killings but has yet to deliver. It would appear that rather than a lack of legal procedures to conduct the investigation, it is a lack of political will that is creating a hindrance in a legal follow-up of threats to journalists.

Safdar Dawar, President, Tribal Union of Journalists, expresses concerns about the government’s commitment towards the cause. “In FATA, all governance systems are weak except for state agencies. It’s not in the interest of the government to investigate cases of targeting journalists, for they will prove either the incompetence of security forces or the involvement of agencies themselves,” he says.

Looking at the perspectives of journalist leaders and human rights defenders one can conclude that while having a special law for journalists might be one of the options but till we get there, the investigations and prosecution has to be done within the mainstream legal system. As Kamran Arif puts it, “We need to strengthen and make functional what is already there through resource allocation and determination of government to solve these cases.”

Asad Baig works as a media and communications specialist

 

 

 

 

   

 

 

 

 

Popular disbelief
Blaming the victim is still the name of the game in Pakistan
By Sadaf Baig

On November 25, 2012, one of Pakistan’s best known journalists Hamid Mir escaped an assassination attempt when an IED (improvised explosive device) rigged to his car was discovered and defused. The next day, Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility for planting the explosive and vowed to make another attempt to kill him. In a country where over 80 journalists have been killed since 2000, the threat to Mir couldn’t get any more real. However, the public reaction to this life attempt was suspicion at best.

Ali Imran, a cab driver in Islamabad, laughed outright when asked about the incident. “Bas mashoor honay kay liye tamasha hai,” he said, adding “everyone knows it is a drama; the so-called bomb was a trick to make people realise how important he is.”

On social media, the public reaction to the news also reflected less than acceptance at face value. Dozens of netizens raised questions about the attempt on his life. Yet others on the fringes linked him to RAW and CIA or accused him of “working against national interest.” While there were many expressing solidarity with Mir, just as many were adamant that the attempt was never real.

Hamid Mir is not the first journalist to have faced such public reaction after a life threat. In 2010, when The News reporter Umar Cheema was kidnapped and tortured, he faced a similar public reaction. When Saleem Shahzad was murdered, there were dark rumours of him ‘having crossed the line’ thus ‘asking’ for a violent end. Judging by the public reaction in most high profile journalist murders and attacks, it appears that blaming the victim is still the name of the game in Pakistan.

Senior journalist Absar Alam links the tendency to doubt the threats to journalists to the culture of conspiracy theories. “As a society we have started believing in conspiracy theories. Take any issue, not only the issue of threats to journalists; talk about the attack on Malala, people think this is a drama. Talk about killing bin Laden — people say the same things. So, whatever happens in Pakistan, people think it is a conspiracy.”

The tendency for widespread disbelief even when explosives have been found on a prominent journalist’s car raise serious concerns about the credibility of media. Some believe that multiple exposes and scandals of some prominent media personalities have discredited the media further.

Saleem Shahid, the former President of Balochistan Union of Journalists, says that people in Balochistan are now getting more curious about how the journalists operate. “When a journalist dies in Balochistan, the public offers sympathy, but now the people have also started asking a lot of questions. And, if a bomb is found at a newspaper or a TV office that hasn’t exploded, people react with disbelief. They see it with suspicion and are not convinced that the threat was real.”

One of the reasons for this disbelief in the reality of threats to media may be the prevailing impunity. Despite the killing of 83 journalists, not a single criminal has been prosecuted and punished. In such circumstances, the public is drawn to fantastical explanations to satisfy their curiosity.

Says Absar Alam: “If the criminals who have killed the journalists are caught, then people will also know this was not a drama. It was real. And somebody was behind it. That is why enforcing the law and ensuring an end to impunity is more important in our case.”

If Alam’s argument holds, it is also a threat to the credibility of the media. Worse, it encourages more attacks against the media and a rise in impunity. Unless the state starts investigating the ghastly killings of journalists many are likely to continue dismissing the threats to journalists’ life as “drama”, failing to acknowledge that an attack on journalists is not just an attack on media but an attack on the society’s fundamental right to freedom of expression.

Sadaf Baig is a blogger, digital media activist and analyst on media issues

caption

While there were many expressing solidarity with Mir, just as many were adamant that the attempt was never real.

UN aid
UN Action Plan for Pakistan seeks to promote a collaborative approach
By Phyza Jameel

The Committee to Protect Journalists in 2012 named 12 countries — including Pakistan, Iraq, Russia, the Philippines, Afghanistan and Mexico — in its annual “impunity index” because they allow deadly violence against the press to go unpunished, calling for a global agenda to shape up around the growing concern of nations around the globe to address this problem collectively.

A pressing need has emerged for the United Nations to develop a single, strategic and harmonised approach in order to have a greater impact on this issue recognising that the killing of journalists impacts the UN system and hampers its efforts made towards development and human rights. In recognition of this background, on April 13, 2012, the UN Chief Executives Board endorsed the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity, with the objective of “working towards the creation of a free and safe environment for journalists and media workers in both conflict and non-conflict situations, with a view to strengthening peace, democracy and development worldwide.” Pakistan is one of the five pilot countries where this Plan will be implemented.

UNESCO as the specialised UN agency mandated to promote freedom of expression at large initiated the process of UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity in 2010 when the Intergovernmental Council of the International Program for the Development of Communication (IPDC) requested Director-General UNESCO to consult with member states on the feasibility of convening an inter-agency meeting of all the relevant UN agencies.

Consequently, the first UN Inter-Agency Meeting on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity took place in Paris in September 2011. Representatives of UN agencies, programmes and funds as well as international and regional institutions, professional organisations, NGOs and member states met and drafted an Action Plan to improve the safety of journalists and combat impunity, providing recommendations to the UN family on the draft Plan.

The measures in the UN Plan include, among others, establishing a coordinated inter-agency mechanism to handle issues related to the safety of journalists as well as involving other intergovernmental organisations at international and regional levels to encourage the incorporation of media development programmes focusing on journalists’ safety within their respective strategies.

The Plan also foresees the extension of work already conducted by UNESCO to prevent crimes against media workers. This includes assisting countries to develop legislation and mechanisms favourable to freedom of expression and information and by supporting their efforts to implement existing international rules and principles.

Pakistan due to its credentials is one of the pilot countries for the forthcoming implementation of strategy to combat the issues of impunity against journalists. On November 5, 2012, the Islamabad Declaration on Safety of Journalists was adopted by members of parliament, Human Rights Commission, media workers, journalists and Press Clubs from all over the country, with special representation from areas of conflict, to demand collective and coordinated action from all stakeholders to stop the killing and harassment of journalists and end impunity.

Based on the adopted declaration, a Pakistan specific draft implementation strategy was proposed at the second UN Inter-Agency meeting held in November 2012 in Vienna, identifying the roles and responsibilities of stakeholders. The purpose of the meeting was to formulate a concrete UN Implementation Strategy on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity for 2013-2014. This means putting in place a framework of actions to be taken during the next two years in Pakistan.

The upcoming UN Action Plan for Pakistan seeks to promote a collaborative approach to protecting journalists as a common value and shared ownership among policymakers, media owners, regulatory bodies, press clubs, civil society and last but not least journalist’s themselves to practice their right of speech with freedom and security.

Phyza Jameel manages the Freedom of Expression and Access to Information Division of the Communications and Information Sector at UNESCO Islamabad

caption

Pakistan due to its credentials is one of the pilot countries for the forthcoming implementation of strategy to combat the issues of impunity against journalists.

 

 

 


BACK ISSUES