Journalists mourn fallen comrades
ISLAMABAD: Journalists in newsrooms across the country mourned the passing away of two colleagues, who were killed in the line of duty while reporting from Quetta’s Civil Hospital on Monday.
Shahzad Khan of Aaj TV and Mehmood Khan of DawnNews were on hand when Bilal Anwer Kasi’s body was brought to the hospital morgue. Upon hearing of the killing of the president of the Balochistan Bar Association, a large number of lawyers gathered at the hospital.
Media men and camerapersons were at the scene when the suicide bomber blew himself up outside the hospital’s crowded emergency wing.
Mehmood’s story is one of self-reliance and hard work. He joined DawnNews several years ago as a security guard and due to his interest in the workings of the newsroom, he was given the role of a non-linear editor. He graduated to cameraperson and had been working in this capacity for two years, according to DawnNews Quetta bureau chief Syed Ali Shah.
Mehmood was shifted to the CMH Quetta in a critical condition, where doctors “tried their best to save him,” Mr Shah said.
Aaj TV’s Shahzad Khan, a seven-year veteran of the news business, was also cut down in the prime of his life. He was no stranger to senseless violence, having reported on several incidents of terrorism, including the attacks on the Hazara community. He is survived by a wife, two daughters and a son.
“There has been an atmosphere of shock and sadness in the newsroom since reports first came in,” said Aamir Ahmed Khan, director news at Aaj TV. “Newsroom staff is like family; because people spend a lot of time working in close quarters, so it was a devastating moment for all of us,” he added.
He said his organisation was in constant contact with the family of Shahzad Khan and was looking to deliver a sustainable response that would suit the needs of the victim’s family.
“This terrorist attack was a definite security lapse. The provincial government has claimed that there was advance information that something like this may happen, so the question arises why no preventive measures were taken,” said DawnNews director news Zahid Mazhar.
He said his channel was in contact with the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) and the government to ensure the family of Mehmood Khan received adequate compensation.
In addition to the two camerapersons, Dunya TV reporter Faridullah and 92 News cameraman Fateh Mohammad were also injured in the attack.
Khurram Kaleem, director news at Dunya TV, told Dawn that Faridullah had continued to report from the field until he was relieved. “He’s a brave man and continued to give beepers from the scene until the Quetta bureau chief reached the spot,” he said, adding that though Farid had lost lot of blood, he was out of danger and currently being treated at the CMH Quetta.
“These brave men go out in the search for news, but end up becoming news themselves,” said Nasir Baig Chughtai, who heads news operations at 92 News.
Paying his respects to fallen comrades, Mr Chughtai told Dawn that Fateh Mohammad — the cameraperson who sustained shrapnel wounds during the blast — was out of danger.
All four men said their organisations would extend support to the victims and their families.
In a statement following the attack, international journalism watchdog Reporters Without Borders called on the authorities “to carry out a thorough investigation” and urged media outlets to “anticipate the risks involved in news coverage in the entire region”.
“The media must take additional measures to forestall the risks for their reporters. The modus operandi of today’s attack was similar to the notorious ‘twin blast’ method often used by terrorists to maximize the number of victims. Media outlets must not yield to the temptation of instant, on-the-spot coverage if it puts their reporters in danger,” the statement said.
NA walkout: Though the National Assembly suspended routine business to discuss the tragic events in Quetta, reporters sporting black armbands observed a token walkout from the press galleries to express solidarity with their fallen comrades.
They demanded that the government ensure that as first responders, mediapersons killed in the line of duty should be treated on a par with soldiers, law enforcement officials and emergency teams and given the same kind of compensation as individuals from these services received.
Irfan Siddiqui, the PM’s adviser on information and broadcasting, acknowledged that successive governments had ignored the security concerns of mediapersons, who had to face dangerous conditions in the exercise of their professional duties.
He promised that he would discuss these issues with the prime minister and try to address journalists’ concerns as soon as possible.