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MCM304 Mass Media in Pakistan Assignment No 01 Spring 2020 Solution & Discussion

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1

The journalists and media organizations in Pakistan have been working in extremely perilous environment because of the increasing rate of crime against journalists and media professionals. Those enter the field of journalism work on their own risk because they are not provided security in the line of duty. The report focuses on such instances of crimes against media, where journalists are killed, murdered, abducted, assaulted, detained, and threatened by law enforcement agencies, militants, feudal lords, and tribal leaders. Channels, newspaper, social networking sites are blocked and banned. Media personnel’s and media organizations are not only threatened but pressurized by state and non-state actors.

November 2, marks the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists. On this day Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF) in its report has called on the new government of Pakistan to ensure a safety of journalists working in the line of duty. Journalists work in risky conditions, on the stake of their lives with the aim to inform public and bring facts upfront. Since it is the duty of government and law enforcement agencies to provide security to the journalists. PPF also stresses upon the authorities to investigate cases of violence against journalists and hold those responsible in heinous crimes of killing media professionals.

As per the data collected by Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF), at least 92 cases of attacks and violations against media in all fours provinces and federal capital, Islamabad were documented. The federal capital of Pakistan, Islamabad emerged as the most dangerous place for journalists with 32 cases of attacks; while 23 cases were recorded nationwide; 12 cases of attacks were documented in Sindh province; 10 cases in Balochistan; eight in Punjab and seven in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The reason behind increasing rate of impunity against journalists in Pakistan is lack of interest by government and law enforcement agencies.

From the period of 2002-2018, 241 journalists and media workers were killed, murdered, assaulted, abducted, detained and arrested throughout Pakistan. See Appendix 1

The PPF investigated six cases of journalists murdered in 2018. However, PPF has determined that the primary causes of murders were personal or business animosities and rivalries rather than their work as journalists. Those murdered during the year included Ehsan Sherpao, Secretary General of Charsadda Press Club; Anjum Muneer Raja, sub-editor, daily Pukaar; Zeeshan Ashraf Butt, reporter, daily Nawa-i-Waqt; Abid Hussain, correspondent of daily Naya Daur, Multan; Saeed Butt, reporter, daily Khabrain; and Muhammad Sohail Khan, reporter, daily K2 Times and AVT channel.

The information committees of the National Assembly and the Senate have now decided to address the issue more seriously and the government, through the Ministry of Information and the Ministry of Interior, has shown some urgency in addressing this issue.

 

However, actions often speak louder than words. In the last meeting of the Senate committee, the government had submitted a draft of 20 steps, which it is taking in consultation with all the stakeholders for the safety of journalists. But how and when these would be implemented is the real test.

 

There is a whole set of measures which the government has assured the Senate committee of, which it is ready to take up in consultation with all media stakeholders. There is a sense of realisation within the government that the security of media in Pakistan is the responsibility of the state. Therefore, the government assured that any issue related to the security of the media or media personnel would be handled on a priority basis.

 

The government also accepted that the media, as well as the rest of Pakistan, is confronting a highly volatile situation and that steps must be taken to restore peace and reduce the threat perception. But there have been incidents of targeted killings, abductions, sectarian violence, bomb blasts and suicide bombings. Journalists often become the victims while covering some of these events.

 

Moreover, the government acknowledged that journalists often become the victim in three kinds of violent incidents: in the line of duty while covering the event, because of issues other than work and thirdly, his or her family also faces threats and is sometimes attacked.

 

The Upper House said that it had been informed by the government that the compensation to media personnel hurt or martyred in the line of duty would be standardised across all provinces and that a Special Public Prosecutor will be inducted for fast-track investigations in Islamabad to expedite the cases of journalists.

 

All IGs are to be asked to inform the standing committee of ‘hotlines’ assigned for media personnel in case of emergencies. As informed by the relevant ministry and the Minister of Information, government officials have made a commitment for the media’s security and thus, special hotlines will be established by April 8.

 

For increased protection, it was also proposed that bulletproof vests must be provided to all journalists in the line of duty, special arrangements at all media houses be undertaken by government to ensure top-level security and scanners be installed by government at all media houses.

All investigations of cases of attacked or injured journalists must be closed within three months and full compensation be paid. Every single attack on media must be fully investigated.

The task on the part of the media bodies is that they must provide the standing committee a complete and comprehensive security plan for all media personnel working for them including any security infrastructure they wish to install.

However, after reading these assurances, I found an important step missing i.e., measures for training journalists to work safely. Therefore, I suggest that there is need to set up a National Training Institute for Safety of Journalists and Media Workers in Islamabad, with its subsidiary in all the major cities. The media houses should also contribute and make it mandatory for every journalist and media worker to get basic safety training.

If the government sets up such an institute and invites local as well as international trainers, it would certainly help minimise the risk factor. They should also get the training from ex-army officers particularly for working in conflict areas. Professional trainings are also required, instructing journalists on how they should go about to report safely from a conflict zone.

2

Reporting on the coronavirus in one of the most press restrictive environments in the world is a challenge – but it also opens up for new opportunities in local media.

Like elsewhere, the media in Pakistan is being tested on how to report the outbreak and impact of Covid-19, a phenomenon overwhelming state and society alike. Already one of the most difficult places on the planet to practice journalism in the pre-outbreak period due to its restrictive free speech environment and impunity of crimes against journalists, new challenges abound for Pakistani media in meeting its mandate of being the guardian of public interest on reporting Covid-19.

 

From having to deal with new health-related safety issues for journalists in the workplace and risky field reporting environments to facing increasing mobility restrictions in the face of lockdowns; and from discovering a lack of reporters and editors who understand public health issues or access to health experts to generate reliable information, to facing challenges in generating adequate specialist content, the media in Pakistan is severely challenged professionally, but responding to the challenges. 

 

The text in context: hard media environment

 

These challenges are exacerbated by the traditional context in which the media operates in Pakistan. The current government, in place for two years now, has implemented a coercive agenda to curtail free speech and pressurize media at the political level that hurts not just media but socio-political rights and civil liberties as well, adversely impacting freedom of expression and access to information. The Covid-19 situation has simply provided the government, one of the most media-unfriendly in recent decades, an opportunity to further this agenda in the garb of ostensibly discouraging panic and paranoia.

Even if the media could operate on an optimal level, it is challenged in informing public about the outbreak and its impact. On keeping the public informed about its response to the virus, the Pakistan government has not been able to mobilize the relevant departments, develop a well-coordinated action plan and provide trustworthy leadership. The messaging on Covid-19 from the government continues to be confused and driven by the dynamics of its adversarial political relations with the country’s provinces.

The media’s credibility, therefore, and the quality of the Covid-19 situation information it is providing is impacted by the restrictions and degraded capacities forced upon it. These are hard times in Pakistan for regular media to provide reliable and adequate information based on people’s enhanced needs.

Despite these challenges, mainstream Pakistani media, insofar as basic Covid-19 information such as reliable figures of victims and identification of the interfaces where the public and officialdom can engage on responding to the health crisis is concerned, has responded with innovation. This has somewhat enhanced the credibility of media since the public does not seem to be getting useful information directly from the government.

As the mediator between the citizen and state, the media is, generally, helping sift between reliable and unreliable information and between information, disinformation and misinformation. By holding the government accountable for its underwhelming Covid-19 response, the media, in general, is also staying true to its mandate of being the guardian of public interest.

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