Hazards of journalism

Especially in Pakistan

That fact that more than 30 journalists have been target-killed in Balochistan over the last five years, without a single accused ever arrested, speaks for itself. Thursday’s attack at the Quetta bureau office of Online news agency – killing two journalists and an accountant – is just another in the long string of incidents that make journalism a hazardous occupation in Pakistan. And the problem, sadly, is not confined to Balochistan. In recent years, especially since the insurgency strengthened, the problem was very visible in the northern belt, particularly in and around Fata. It also spread to main cities, with prominent journalists being targeted openly; some disappearing, some escaping, and some not so lucky.

It cannot be stressed enough how low successive governments have put the safety of journalists on their respective priority lists. Usually safety of journalists is compromised in areas of active war or countries with iron-grip dictatorial rule, where they are killed, kidnapped and tortured. But Pakistan’s case is peculiar. The journalist community here has an admirable record of defying dictators and autocrats, having to fight out their newfound autonomy for quite a long time. It is all the more lamentable, therefore, that they be reduced to such insignificance in the eyes of the government, which has failed to protect them.

Mass media, of course, plays an integral role in the overall maturity of a nation. Its independence, and the way it functions, is also usually a very good indicator about the level of general freedom attained by any given society. And even though Pakistan is placed low even among third-world, emerging-market categories, its media industry has burgeoned like few in the world. And considering it started that journey during the time of military rule, and played a central role in struggles involving the judiciary, politicians, and elections, its rise is that much more admirable. It has its share of faults, of course, but it is also quick to weed out deficiencies that impede progress. It is, after all, an industry with a very large audience; an aspect that has a self-correcting feature about it.

The government must take this matter very seriously. Wherever journalists are intimidated, threatened, and killed, society as a whole is compromised. That years pass with no accountability is just not accountable. Those in charge must be seen acting, and ensuring such tragedy is not repeated, or the media itself will be the first to expose them.


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