A report on safety of Pakistani media professionals presents a bleak picture of the level of insecurity faced by Pakistani journalists and calls have been made for serious efforts by governments and media to change the present situation where those that kill, injure, abduct and threaten journalists are almost never punished.
The Report on Safety of Media Workers released by Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF) on the International Day to end Impunity for Crimes against Journalists documents that since 2001, 47 media workers have been murdered, 164 injured, 88 assaulted, 21 abducted and 40 detained. In addition 24 media professionals died while covering dangerous assignments. There have been convictions in only two cases out of 384 cases of violence against media.
In Pakistan, journalists are killed, unjustly detained, abducted, beaten and threatened by law enforcement and intelligence agencies, militants, tribal and feudal lords, as well as by religious groups and political parties that claim to promote democracy and the rule of law. Adding to the report, gravity of the situation is such that the perpetrators of violence against journalists and media workers enjoy almost absolute immunity from prosecution in Pakistan.
Because of conflicts and insurgencies the number of murders and killings is the highest in Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and FATA. Since 2001, 21 journalists and media workers were killed in Balochistan, 19 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 9 in FATA and 15 in Sindh, 4 in Punjab and 3 in Islamabad.
Threats and violence have forced many journalists to move from these dangerous areas and to leave the profession or to resort to self-censorship, particularly in conflict areas. As a consequence, news reports from conflict areas are based on press releases, not on observations by independent journalists. Thus, new reports that are published or broadcast lack credibility and do not inform the public in an objective manner.
The two convictions by courts were in Sindh for the murder of Daniel Pearl of Wall Street Journal and Wali Babar of Geo Television. In both cases the federal and provincial governments seriously pursued the cases because of pressure from media organisations of that the victims belonged to. The report thus recommends that criminal cases should not only be registered but should also be properly investigated against the perpetrators of violence against media. The report also calls on media itself to take the lead in ensuring safety of media practitioners and to ensure long-term follow up of cases of assault on media organisations and workers.
Apart from murders and killings, the largest number of cases of violence against media occurred in the province of Sindh. Out of a total of 164 journalists and media workers injured and assaulted since 2001, 91 were in Sindh. Surprisingly, in the second place in these categories with 70 assaults was Islamabad, which was largely due to the assaults on a large number of media personnel by supporters of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) during the Dharna in 2014. As many as 48 media personnel were injured and assaulted in Punjab, 23 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and 14 in Balochistan.
This reluctance to hold those who use violence against media professionals exists even in high profile cases such as the attack on Hamid Mir in 2014, and the murders of journalists Saleem Shahzad in 2011 and Hayatullah Khan in 2006. In all three cases, high profile commissions were set up but none of them failed to produce any results.
Hamid Mir of Geo Television received six bullet wounds when he was attacked in Karachi in April 2014. Government set up a judicial commission in response to national and international furor over the attack.
The commission was supposed to submit a report in 21 days. However, eighteen months have passed and the commission has still not submitted the report. Meanwhile, Mir and other journalists continue to receive threats and face a sense of increasing insecurity. The report calls for timely completion of the commission’s report which should fix responsibility and be made public.
The report says that cases that are not high profile are covered up at the local level. One such example is that of the fatal shooting of Shan Dahar, reporter of “Abb Takk” TV channel on the night of December 31, 2013 in Badh, in Larkana district. He was shot in his back and was taken to the hospital where he remained unattended until he succumbed to his injuries in the early hours of January 1, 2014. The local police, in an investigation that his family believes to be flawed and based on hidden motives, termed the death accidental which was the result of shooting on New Year’s Eve. However, the family believes he was targeted because of his stories on the use of fake medicines in local hospitals. Despite repeated promises, including those by Minister of Information and Broadcasting Pervaiz Rashid, to have the case re-investigated, no action has been taken by the provincial or federal governments.
The report emphasises that free media is essential to democracy in Pakistan and for promoting transparency and accountability; it is a prerequisite of sustained economic uplift and the impunity showed by those who attack Pakistani media is seriously hampering independent journalism in Pakistan.