Karachi: Coordinated efforts are necessary to deal with threats to Pakistani media and Committee for Protection of Journalists (CPJ) is consulting with all stakeholders including the government to ensure better steps for protection of journalists and freedom of expression, said Elisabeth Witchel, CPJ Impunity Campaign Consultant here Wednesday evening.
She was speaking at a ‘roundtable discussion on threats to Pakistani media and launch of Pakistan Impunity Watch Website’ arranged at a local hotel by Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF).
She said Pakistan is counted amongst the most dangerous counties for journalists and is a concern and focus of CPJ and other global media organizations. She said in Pakistan the situation has been worsening for last three years. She said they are in Pakistan to meet with journalists, media organizations and other stakeholders including the government to discuss the problems of Pakistani journalists and threats to media here and also to find solutions to improve the situation. She lauded the efforts of Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF) for freedom of expression and safety of journalists in Pakistan, saying the launch of Pakistan Impunity Watch Website is a big step forward. She said let us think what we could do to end the impunity against journalists in Pakistan.
Owais Aslam Ali, secretary general PPF, said CPJ is amongst largest global organizations working for the safety of journalists. He said the CPJ sends its delegation to Pakistan after every two years and it meets with journalists, media organizations, editors and also with the government to highlight the protection issues of Pakistani journalists. He said the launch of Pakistan Impunity Watch Website would help in proper documentation of the cases related to violence against media and record developments in prosecuting these cases. He said there is a need of joint efforts of all stakeholders to end the impunity against journalists.
It was noted that the conviction in the case of Wali Khan Babar murder is a big achievement for Pakistani media as it is first conviction in any case related to murder of a Pakistani journalist. They said previously there was conviction in the case of Wall Street Journal reporter Denial Pearl and that took more than a decade and still the case is in appealing process. They said after the recent general elections the situation regarding media safety does not seem improving, though the conviction in Wali Khan Babar is the ray of hope.
They observed that reporting in conflict zones like Balochistan and FATA is very risky. The situation in urban Sindh, particularly Karachi, is also bad due to threats of different outfits and organized mafias. The militants of banned outfits have become more assertive and they demand more coverage for their activities. The media is braving pressure of not only militant, ethnic, sectarian organizations and organized criminal mafias but also government agencies try to dictate the media, particularly in conflict areas. There should be a strategy to deal with the threats on these armed banned outfits, as in many other countries their media organizations have successfully dealt with the issue of coverage parameters to the banned outfits and armed militant groups.
There is a lack of support for journalists not only from the government side, but the media organizations, themselves, are also not taking the issue of protection to journalists seriously. The organizations like APNS and CPNE should convene a joint meeting and chalk a proper strategy. Their member publications can publish a joint editorial on the issue of threats to journalists. They can even observe a one-day strike to raise this issue forcefully. The journalists should also devise a mechanism of coverage parameters of sensitive issues and they should use the emotionally-loaded words like martyr with utmost care.
In Balochistan province the situation is horrible for reporters. The militants and other actors of this conflict had already killed many journalists but not a single FIR is lodged for these coldblooded targeted killings. Recently, the Balochistan Assembly has passed a bill to give compensation to the families of victimized journalists on the pattern of government compensations being paid to the bereaved families of victims of targeted killings. There is a need of giving insurance cover to all journalists keeping in view the volatile situation of media safety in Pakistan. Local press clubs can also play a good role in safety of their member journalists and efforts be taken for their capacity building.
Murtaza Khan Babar, the brother of slain reporter, Wali Khan Babar, said the conviction in Wali Khan Babar was taken as a big development in Pakistan, though conviction in murder cases is a routine issue. He said his family fought a long, agonizing battle, but still it is too early to say that the case has reached to its logical conclusion. He said they found it difficult to find a lawyer to prosecute Wali Khan Babar case, saving a brave advocate, Naimatullah Khan Randhawa, who was also killed like investigation officers and eyewitnesses of this case. He said the masterminds behind the murder of Wali Khan Babar are still left untouched and Pakistan and a foreign government have to play their role in this regard. He feared if the appeal on Wali Khan Babar conviction is heard in Karachi, they may again not find a lawyer in the city to fight this case.
Kamal Siddiqi, Mazhar Abbas, Amin Yousuf, Idress Bakhtiar, Owais Tohid and others also spoke. The lauded the role of PPF and termed the launching of Pakistan Impunity Watch Website a big step forward to end impunity against journalists.