Duty and death
Despite the obvious risks it carries, journalism had not been associated with death in Pakistan. All this changed in 2002 – since then some 80 journalists have been killed, most of them in the ‘war zones’ that have crept up across the country. Others have been gunned down in cities. In 2011, Pakistan was among the top ten most dangerous countries in the world for journalists. The situation only seems to worsen; this year has seen six deaths, four of them in Balochistan. The latest victim in this now all-too-familiar violent setting was the highly respected Abdul Haq Baloch, who worked for a private television news channel in the city of Khuzdar, Balochistan.
Haq, gunned down at the end of September, was not the only victim of this violence. Five other journalists have been killed over two years in Khuzdar, where the press club has also been attacked. Abdul Haq’s murder triggered panic among other journalists based in the town, with a few choosing to flee the area. Direct attacks on the media are evidently intended to prevent people’s access to the news, and must be seen as an assault on the right to information, rather than the targeting of a single profession.
Interior Minister Rehman Malik has promised that the government will take steps to enact legislation to protect journalists. But we know that government promises mean very little in real terms. Given the law and order situation in Balochistan, it is evident the authorities there hardly wield sufficient power to protect anyone. This being said, it is the duty of the state to ensure the security of its citizens and create an environment for media persons to perform their duties with some assurance of safety.
Media organisations too need to work towards this, and ensure that their employees in conflict areas are provided with the skills, training and necessary equipment to deal with hostile reporting environments. We hope the powers that be make an effort in changing the perception – rightly so – that Pakistan is a nation where it has become impossible for journalists to go about their professional duties safely.