NGO points out challenges being faced by tribal journalists -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

NGO points out challenges being faced by tribal journalists

PESHAWAR: The Individual-land, a non-government organisation, in its support for tribal journalists has stated, “Tribal journalists are usually pressured both by the government and the militants. All parties to the conflict in Waziristan insist that their dead are martyrs.

The media are under pressure to refer to dead soldiers as ‘martyrs’ and the militants as ‘terrorists’ and ‘miscreants’. Never mind if the government and the military eventually sign peace agreements with the same ‘terrorists’ and army generals sometimes refer to militants’ commander Baitullah Mahsud as ‘soldier of peace’ and then start condemning him as terrorist.”

The NGO said the government, militants and others having a stake in the tribal areas want to present a one-sided view of the situation there, but “tribal reporters are doing their duty with the support of their employers and their counterparts in Peshawar and the rest of Pakistan.”

In a report on tribal journalists, the NGO stated, Frequently, media’s access to the scene of action in FATA is blocked and trouble spots are declared as ‘no-go’ areas for journalists. “Newsmen were kept out of Bajaur Agency on two occasions in 2006: when a US pilot less plane attacked Damadola village in January to destroy a suspected Al-Qaeda hideout, and then in October when the Pakistan Army claimed responsibility for a missile strike against a religious seminary in which 80 young students and their teachers were killed.”

The report cited sacrifices of local journalist Din Muhammad, who was made to pay dearly for defying one group of militants in Wana. “Four of his family members, including his father, brother, uncle and cousin, were killed in apparent retribution for his work. He was lucky to survive an attack in the Wana area,” the report added.

“However, Din Muhammad may have to follow in the footsteps of other journalists who realised they were risking their lives by continuing to work out of Wana. Barring a few, the 30 odd journalists who reported from Wana and other parts of South Waziristan have shifted to Tank, Dera Ismail Khan, Peshawar and even Islamabad to avoid harm,” it said.

The report said it wasn’t only Din Muhammad’s work as journalist that angered the militants, but that he earned their ire when he facilitated a group of visiting journalists from Peshawar, Dera Ismail Khan and Tank to visit Wana on March 25 and meet leaders of a breakaway faction of militants who had pledged to evict foreign fighters linked to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) from their area. “Despite losing four members of his family, Din Mohammad has continued to live and work in Wana, where control has shifted hands from Uzbek militants and their local allies to an alliance of government-backed tribal fighters led by one Maulvi Nazeer.”

The report said the Pushtoon tribes inhabiting the tribal areas put up strong resistance against the British Raj prior to Pakistan’s independence in 1947, and that the colonial rulers deliberately kept these areas underdeveloped. “The Pakistan government made little effort to change FATA’s administrative system, which is why these areas came to be known as “Ilaqa Ghair” or “Yaghistan”, meaning a place outside the purview of law,” it added.

“The government does not permit foreign journalists to enter the tribal areas and to report what is actually going on there, while the military’s Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) arranges daytime guided trips to Waziristan and Bajaur to provide only one side of the picture to the international media,” the report said.

The report also said that for tribal reportersÂ’ protection, journalists in Peshawar published sensitive stories about FATA with Peshawar datelines without mentioning the name of the tribal reporter.

The demand for footage linked to the war on terror for use by Western and other international television channels led to emergence of a new breed of tribal reporters wielding digital cameras and making good money. However, the assassination of four tribal journalists during the last two years has frightened journalists in South and North Waziristan and affected their work. Journalists, Allah Noor Wazir and Amir Nawab Khan, were killed on February 7, 2005 in an ambush near Wana after returning from Srarogha town where they had covered the peace agreement ceremony between the government and Baitullah Mahsud, a commander of tribal militants.

Nasir Afridi was accidentally shot dead on December 4, 2005 when two rival parties exchanged fire in the Darra Adamkhel bazaar. Hayatullah, a tribal reporter based in Mir Ali in North Waziristan, abducted on December 5, 2005 and his bullet-riddled body was found seven months later. Hayatullah’s family argued that pictures taken by him showing parts of the Hellfire missile fired by a pilotless US Predator plane to kill an alleged al-Qaeda operative Hamza Rabia, in his village near Mir Ali belied the government claim that Rabia and others with him were killed while making bombs in the house during the night.

Shakir Ehsan became disabled when he was sustained bullets in a fight in which his two colleagues, Allah Noor Wazir and Amir Nawab Wazir, were shot dead. Mujib-ur-Rehman Wazir was lucky to survive an assassination attempt in Wana on May 14, 2005 and he is still active in journalism, but has left South Waziristan and shifted to Dera Ismail Khan.

“The US media and the government and political figures in most Western capitals are convinced that Osama bin Laden, his deputy Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri and other top al-Qaeda members are hiding in Waziristan. All this is enough to keep Waziristan, Bajaur and other tribal areas in the limelight in the world media. That would mean greater reliance on tribal reporters who have access to FATA and possess courage to do an honest professional job,” the report said.
Source: Daily Times
Date:5/21/2007