Safety should be a concern for all media stakeholders in Pakistan

By Iqbal Khattak

For the many gathered inside the ‘Sheesh Mahal’ Hall of Serena Hotel in Islamabad on 29 October in connection with the International Day to End Impunity (IDEI), it was a chilling account of what the family of slain young journalist Wali Khan Babar had gone through to fight impunity of crimes against journalists and media in Pakistan.

“Seven persons, including an eyewitness, police investigators and a lawyer were gunned down to stop the legal course of the case before justice was done,” Murtaza Khan Babar, the brother of the deceased Wali Khan Babar, told the audience that joined the United Nations Education, Scientific and Culture Organization (UNESCO) in launching Pakistan’s first Journalists’ Safety Indicators (JSIs). This is the first time a set of indicators have been publicised for any of the pilot countries belonging under the umbrella of the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity.

The brother of the deceased journalist used the occasion to remind media stakeholders that if they do not fight impunity together, then journalism will no longer be practiced professionally and peacefully in Pakistan. Pakistan is among the five pilot countries where the UN Plan of Action has been implemented since October 2013. Pakistan was chosen because of the 600 journalists that have been killed worldwide over the last 10 years, more than 10 percent of these took place in Pakistan. Only a few days after the commemoration of the International Day to End Impunity , a tribal journalist was shot dead in Tank district of northwestern Pakistan on 3 November 2015 reinforcing fears that safety concerns of journalists and media houses will not be addressed until a multi-stakeholders approach is implemented. Journalists, media houses, the government and civil society organisations (CSOs) must join hands to fight impunity.

The Journalists’ Safety Indicators authored by media specialist Adnan Rehmat, have identified roles for each stakeholder in working for the safety of journalists and fighting impunity – for media organisations, journalists, the government and the CSOs. If everyone fulfils their due roles and meets their responsibilities, this monster will not be difficult to tackle. Under the umbrella of the UN Action Plan of the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity, the purpose of the Journalists’ Safety Indicators (JSIs) is to pinpoint significant matters that show or impact on the safety of journalists. The JSIs can help assess the extent to which journalists are able to carry out their work under safe conditions. They can map and provide additional guidance on the roles and responsibilities of media stakeholders of the Pakistani media environment in relation to safety and fighting impunity – stakeholders such as media houses, media workers, political actors, civil society organisations, the UN and academia. The indicators are based on measurements such as safety and impunity statistics, the number and types of threats on the lives of journalists and media institutions, attacks, their frequency, media laws that protect journalists, and so on. The JSIs are a living document and will be developed continuously.

If all journalists are trained and equipped with tools to stay safe while reporting from dangerous areas in Pakistan; and media organisations take the appropriate steps to ensure the safety of their journalists: and the government helps to provide an enabling environment for journalists to do their work and bring perpetrators of crimes against journalists to justice – we may minimize the risks that journalists face.

Pakistani journalists should learn to say ‘no’ if their newsrooms, particularly TV news channels, or owners push them too far in order to be first with the breaking news and get the ‘nice shots’. The ”breaking news syndrome” and lack of concern for journalists’ safety is compromising the safety and lives of reporters and cameramen. A columnist in Quetta city of Balochistan was killed for using a headline for his article suggested by his newsroom.

Two actors – the state and non-state actors, besides legal and illegal entities across the country, are believed to be targeting the media. The state actors are mainly referred to as the military and civilian-run intelligence agencies and police. If they support the media instead, other sources of attacks, threats, assassinations and harassments by the non-state actors mainly referred to as Taliban and other legal and illegal entities may well be countered. If the media owners prioritise staff safety and security, Pakistan can be a role model for other countries to overcome the issue of journalists’ safety concerns.

I have little doubt in the ability of the state of Pakistan to make it happen. The only thing I see missing is the will to make an enabling environment where journalists can work independently and professionally.

International Media Support