Political will needed to protect journalists

ISLAMABAD: Politicians, mediapersons and civil society activists on Tuesday said there was a lack of political will to ensure security for mediapersons.

They were speaking at a consultation arranged by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) to finalise a report on ‘Enhancing security for mediapersons’.

The speakers said targeted killing of mediapersons cannot be stopped unless security agencies were made answerable to parliament. As many as 118 journalists have been killed in different incidents in the country since 2000.

Former senator Afrasiab Khattak said militarisation had increased in society due to which media owners and anchorpersons talked like warlords.

“I have seen a report on Omer Cheema, which is with the human rights committee of the Senate. There are circumstantial evidences about the involvement of security agencies (in his torture),” he said.

Senior journalist M. Ziauddin said he did not think the government would do anything to ensure security for journalists.

“Moreover, it is the responsibility of the media house owners to ensure security of journalists. There should be some conditions for issuing licences to the media houses to ensure safety standards.”

He said the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) remained divided and there was also tension among media houses. “Rivalry among media houses is good but it should not become an enmity,” he added.

Journalist Hamid Mir said even big media houses were being dictated and 70 to 80 per cent of their contents were compromised.

“Some journalists have left their jobs because they could not bear the pressure. As many as 11 journalists from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) have shifted to Islamabad but no one is ready to take up their issue,” he claimed.

“The inquiry report on Omer Cheema could not be made public. On the other hand, both the government and the establishment want to suppress the media,” Mr Mir said, adding legislation should be done to make security agencies answerable to the parliament.

Rights activist Fatima Atif said in talk shows, genuine people were not invited and the programmes were conducted under some special agendas.

“Some journalists also try to exaggerate the threats for publicity,” she alleged.

PFUJ president Afzal Butt said civil society showed solidarity with journalists when media houses received threats or were attacked but it never expressed solidarity when journalists demanded their rights from media house owners.

“In a majority of media houses, even basic human rights are not implemented. A media house sacked a woman journalist after she sought maternity leave,” he said.

HRCP joint director Najamuddin said the concerns of journalists and media owners were different.

Zafarullah Khan, who wrote the report, said laws were made but never implemented. He said funds allocated for Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) should be spent on the welfare of journalists.

“There should also be a check on media houses as there is a big mismatch between expenses and taxes they pay. I prepared a report on the differences between the taxes and the expenses of media houses but no one published it. Some parts of the report regarding the BOL group were, however, published,” he said.

Mr Zafarullah told Dawn that the report on the security of mediapersons was about the last five years.

“The recommendations will be incorporated in the report within a week after which it will be distributed among parliamentarians,” he said.

Some recommendations asked the government to work in collaboration with organisations that were dedicated to the cause of security of journalists and media houses.

It added that the National Commission for Human Rights should play a proactive role for the rights of journalists. The judicial commission set up to investigate the attack on Hamid Mir should make its findings public. The Supreme Court was urged to ensure that the findings of various judicial commissions were implemented.

Political parties should train their workers and activists to respect the role and value of a free and independent media.

“Pemra charges exuberant licence, annual renewal fees and 5-7 per cent of annual gross advertisement revenues from satellite televisions and FM radios. It should establish an institute to train media professionals on issues of safety and security besides contributing towards the journalist safety fund,” it was suggested.