By: Aoun Sahi
Journalists are walking a tightrope after the attack on Malala, Enraged by the extensive coverage of its attempt to kill Malala Yousafzai, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has started threatening local as well as international media organisations across the country.
According to an Interior Ministry official, the TTP chief Hakimullah Mehsud has issued ‘special instructions’ to his subordinates in different cities of Pakistan to target certain media groups. “Intelligence agencies have intercepted a telephonic conversation between Hakimullah Mehsud and a commander named Nadeem Abbas alias Intiqami. The TTP chief was heard directing Abbas to attack media organisations in Karachi, Lahore, Rawalpindi, Islamabad and other cities,” the official tells TNS.
The Interior Ministry has informed the media groups and personalities who are likely to be attacked and has beefed up their security.
On October 11, the TTP central spokesperson Ihsanullah Ihsan sent an email to journalists strongly criticising the media for its coverage of the Malala attack. “After this incident Media poured out all of its smelly propaganda against Taliban mujahideen,” the email read. Some TTP sources say that the Taliban have been closely monitoring different local and foreign media organisations after the attack on Malala.
“They are under pressure because of media’s stance on the attack,” says Hamid Mir, leading journalist and anchorperson. Hamid Mir, who interviewed Malala Yousafzai for the first time in 2009, tells TNS that the day Malala was attacked, he did a programme on the issue strongly criticising the attackers.
“I raised several questions including was it allowed in Islam to attack an innocent girl? I also raised the point that attacking a girl is even against the Pashtun culture. My producer tried to stop me and asked to not raise such strong questions against Taliban as they could harm our children as well. But for me that was enough.”
He says the Interior Minister Rehman Malik has been asking him since December 2011 to restrict his movement. Mir thinks, “We need to take them head on. Taliban have only one weapon and that is violence. This should not be acceptable anymore.” He says the Taliban still have the support of some individuals in the establishment and the media needs to expose them to weaken their support base.
According to Mir, more than 25 Pakistani journalists have been killed during the last three years. “Only Saleem Shahzad’s family has received some kind of assistance in monetary terms while the families of other journalists have got nothing. Take Hayatullah Khan’s example; his killers have even killed his wife and brother because they were pursuing his murder case. Now, there is nobody to take care of his four children,” says Mir who is planning to set up a Journalist Support Fund with the help of some journalist friends. “We would set up it with our own money.”
Journalists in Swat and surrounding areas are especially under pressure after the Malala attack. They have been receiving threatening phone calls and SMSs and living under constant fear.
“I have stopped going to the office and restricted my movement. Journalists in Swat have been receiving SMSs from mobile networks in Afghanistan. We have been offered security by the local administration but it is a double-edged sword. It makes one more prominent and vulnerable to attacks,” says Sherin Zada, a senior journalist.
He says that situation in Swat has become very tense after the attack on Malala as the Taliban are quite angry with the way the attack was reported.
While journalists have always been under threat on the field, they now face a new challenge back at their news organisations’ headquarters. Another Swat-based journalist, who does not want to be named, says his media house is least bothered about his safety. “I was never trained by my media group in how to work in hostile conditions or how to hide my identity while covering a news item. The day Malala was attacked, I was under constant pressure from the head office to cover the incident live. My channel wanted me on TV screen for maximum coverage while I was receiving threats,” the scared journalist says, adding that almost every journalist in Swat has been facing similar situation.
Global rights organisations have rated the country as one of the most dangerous for journalists. It is not uncommon for a Pakistani journalist to live under a constant cloud of fear and intimidation. Reporters working in the field have been allegedly threatened, abducted, tortured and killed by armed groups as well as state and non-state actors.
Pakistan was declared as the deadliest country for journalists in 2011 for the second year running by Reporters Without Borders. More journalists were killed in Pakistan than in any other country in 2010 and 2011, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CJP) that promotes press freedom around the world.
“Many of those who died in targeted killings had first been warned to be silent,” read a blog post on the website of CPJ. “It is true that post-Malala attack threats are very specific and direct. But the government response this time was quick and on the spot. It informed the targeted media groups and journalists about the threats in time and also offered them security,” says Iqbal Khattak, Peshawar-based Pakistan representative of Reporters Without Borders.
“Taliban are more concerned about the media groups which have direct access to the area under their control. So, radio being the most influential medium in their areas is most threatened.” Khattak, who has been advocating for extensive training for journalists working in hostile areas, says during the last three years non-government organisations and some international organisations have arranged a lot of such workshops.
“We want our media houses to take the job on from where the NGOs have left. Unfortunately, we have not received a good response from the media houses.”