In the line of fire
THE Committee to Protect Journalists says seven Pakistani journalists were killed while working this year. The South Asian Free Media Association puts the number at 13. Whatever the actual figure, Pakistan remained one of the most dangerous countries in the world, and the deadliest country in South Asia, for journalists in 2012. Caught between state and non-state actors, reporters, photographers, cameramen and other media workers sacrificed their lives as they attempted to report the truth while trying to avoid the wrath of multiple institutions and groups. A few were caught in violent riots or killed while covering violent incidents, but many were murdered with intent, particularly in Balochistan, which has now statistically become the most dangerous province for a Pakistani journalist. Many others, from district correspondents to nationally recognised television journalists, survived or received direct threats to their lives.
One of the reasons Pakistan regularly features at or near the top of such lists is, ironically, a result of the freedom the country’s media has gained over the last decade. Unlike in many other countries and conflict zones, Pakistani journalists might be harassed by the authorities but are rarely directly disallowed from reaching and covering dangerous areas and incidents. The flipside, of course, is that they pay for this freedom by laying down their lives. But the answer is not to limit their movement.
Instead, it lies in devising and implementing a set of policies aimed specifically at protecting journalists and punishing those who kill them.
On that front the state and media organisations have abdicated their responsibility to the men and women who take on the task of keeping citizens informed. The effort made to investigate Daniel Pearl’s execution has not been replicated for any Pakistani journalist. In the rare case where a journalist’s death attracts widespread attention, no clear conclusions are reached; the report on Saleem Shahzad’s murder, for example, simply states the obvious — that the culprits could have been intelligence agencies or Islamist extremists. In a particularly chilling example of the impunity with which those killing journalists get away with their crimes, all six witnesses to the murder of Wali Khan Babar have also been killed. Pakistan’s journalists are increasingly falling victim to the overt and covert conflict between extremists, separatists and political actors on the one hand and security and intelligence agencies on the other. If the state isn’t willing to prevent this from happening, media organisations will simply have to find a way to pressure it to do so, because the worst outcome would be if the media had to reverse the strides it has made by curbing its reporting.