By: Iqbal Khattak
The good news is that we are more than halfway through 2015 and the casualty figures for journalists have still not touched the three-digit mark. The bad news is that journalists are still being targeted around the world, including in Pakistan, where a journalist and a media assistant were killed and two others injured within a span of 24 hours in the second week of September. Fifty-nine journalists have been killed between January 1 and September 14, 2015, according to the International Press Institute’s (IPI) Death Watch.
These figures justify the worldwide concerns and interventions aimed at reversing the situation vis-a-vis journalist safety, especially in dangerous places like Syria, Iraq and Pakistan. However, even peaceful countries like France and the US can be vulnerable to attacks on journalists. These concerns and interventions recently brought together some 30 media safety experts and relevant media and civil society organisation leaders in Nairobi in the first week of September to examine experiences from Asia, Africa and the Middle East. The gathering, organised by the IPI in cooperation with Al Jazeera’s Center for Pubic Liberties and Human Rights and the African Media Initiative, may prove helpful in creating awareness about journalist safety and security, and how it is of paramount importance for states, media houses and societies in general to accord significance to this crucial area. Al Jazeera, perceived by many in the Muslim world as ‘alternative media’, has taken a major initiative to support the cause of journalist safety and is driving a global agenda called the ‘International Declaration on Journalists’ Safety’ — underlining the protection of journalists, taking into account the responsibilities of different actors, including state institutions, media houses and journalists themselves.
This multi-stakeholders approach is what the Pakistan Coalition on Media Safety has been pursuing since its establishment in October 2013 and it aims to move ahead while implementing the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity. All the three major stakeholders — the government, media houses and journalists — have to join hands to help improve the safety environment. Civil society organisations must also play a vital role in this regard. Before Pakistan succeeds in overcoming the challenge of keeping journalists safe, media houses will have to take measures to adopt in-house safety protocols and the government will have to make progress when it comes to investigating and prosecuting cases of violence against journalists. This will help in the fight against a culture of impunity in a country where well over 100 journalists have been killed since 2002.
What may eventually take us out of the crisis is a united front by leading media houses, which can take up the role of championing the cause of journalist safety. More importantly, TV channels must come forward to acknowledge that journalism will vanish if these attacks are not pre-empted and perpetrators of crimes against media and its practitioners are not brought to justice. Unless a strong message is sent that the journalist community is united against its aggressors, a pre-emptive policy may not work. As I write this, a journalist from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa’s Hangu district is looking at us to protect him from what he terms are “threatening elements” from the Taliban. Umar Farooq Paracha and his family feel unsafe as the threat against journalists looms larger and there seems to be no response on the horizon.