THE enactment of the Journalists Welfare Endowment Fund Act 2014 by the KP Assembly is a positive measure to extend the state’s welfare umbrella. The fund has been established with an initial capital of Rs50 million. Rs1m shall be paid to the family of a journalist who is killed in an act of terrorism.
Conflict and other forms of hazardous reporting are not new in this part of the world, and journalists here have been exposed to the perils of the profession since long. It is unfortunate that media organisations have not given due importance to the sensitivities associated with such reporting.
With extremists often suspecting journalists of having links with their enemy, and because of the dynamics of the job itself, including the blind competition for breaking news, media personnel are easy targets. For instance, in the race to be the first to cover a blast, journalists expose themselves to a second blast at the site. In Quetta last year, three media workers lost their lives in twin blasts. Unfortunately, that critical balance between the right to know and the right to life is often disturbed because of media rivalries.
When a journalist is killed or a media house attacked, the media focuses on the story, thus multiplying its effects, which is what the militants want in order to capture world attention.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) since 1992 in Pakistan, 72 journalists have been killed. The motive behind 54 of these killings has been ascertained; however, the motive behind the rest remains shrouded in mystery. Of the journalists killed, about 39pc were covering conflict, 15pc corruption and 13pc human rights issues. Some 56pc of the dead journalists were associated with the print media and 4pc were foreign journalists.
Since 1992, Sindh has registered 18, Balochistan 17, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa 16, Fata 10, Punjab seven and the federal capital three cases. Attacks on press clubs have also claimed lives as the one on the Peshawar and Khuzdar press clubs some years ago.
Conflict reporting requires special skills and experience, and only the trained and experienced should be allowed to do it, that too with the paraphernalia needed for war zones including bullet-proof jackets and helmets. Moreover, it is critical to arrange insurance covering disability and death.
International humanitarian organisations like the Red Cross offer hotline facilities to the families of reporters who may have disappeared in conflict areas. This international involvement helps maintain transparency where local law enforcement is concerned. A threat assessment needs to be carried out by the police and security alerts should be communicated to the potential targets. Therefore more coordination between the police and media is needed.
To ensure the safety and welfare of journalists, the government intends to constitute a commission comprising journalists, public figures and government representatives. The commission will make suggestions on how to monitor the prosecution of crimes against journalists. According to the CPJ, in nine out of 10 cases in which journalists are killed, the perpetrators go free. But the recent conviction in the Wali Babar case has increased confidence in the criminal justice system.
Life insurance for journalists and compensation to the heirs of those killed in Fata and the federal capital is also under consideration by the federal government. To enhance security levels, in consultation with media representatives there is a move to work out a security plan to secure press clubs and media houses.
There is a growing demand that the cases of killings of journalists should be handled by special prosecutors and tried by anti-terrorism courts.
To ensure a safe working environment for journalists, in 2006 the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1738. Last November, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution on the safety of journalists and also proclaimed Nov 2 as the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists. Earlier, in 2012 a UN plan on the safety of journalists was adopted. For the purposes of this plan, five countries viz South Sudan, Iraq, Pakistan, Nepal and Mexico were selected.
The UN plan expects that the selected countries will ensure the need for legislation to protect freedom of expression through improved investigation and prosecution of crimes against journalists. The plan also envisages a safety fund for journalists working in conflict areas. In Pakistan, to augment such measures, uniform compensation needs to be worked out by all provinces, and conflict reporting taught as a subject at the university level.
Meanwhile, reporters must respect the ‘yellow police tape’ at the scene of a crime. This will not only protect lives but also keep circumstantial evidence intact. To draft and enforce a code of ethics it is imperative to have a professional institutional relationship between the police and media groups.
The writer is a deputy inspector general of the police. email@example.com