The media in Balochistan
Balochistan continues to bleed and remains in the clutches of retrogressive tribalism, brutal multidimensional state and non-state militarism. It is also stymied by the curse of cronyism, rampant crime, and a damning collusion among the ruling elites to pursue and preserve their vested interests.
All this bears down heavily on the press as well, manifest in diminishing number of stringers and reporters in volatile regions such as Khuzdar; membership of the Khuzdar Press Club, for instance, is down from 20 to seven as a result of targeted killings. Similarly, the membership in the Qalat Press Club is down from about 10 members to a mere four because of intimidation by tribal chiefs. Most journalists have either left the profession or relocated to Quetta.
A recent interaction with press representatives from various districts of Balochistan turned out to be quite a depressing experience as it provided some bitter insights into how the sociocultural context and political dynamics of Balochistan impact the lives of those trying to keep others informed. It also resonated some heart-wrenching grievances by journalists working in these backward districts. Meeting with press club leaders reinforced the operational hazards journalists face in their daily reporting.
Though not surprising, many did ventilate their frustrations even with some of the national media houses’ apathy towards regional stringers.
Most of them operate out of their own homes or shops or from personally rented premises. Organisational headquarters in Karachi, Lahore or Islamabad keep pressing them for ‘exclusive’ stories but hardly bother about the technical wherewithal needed to file the story. The worst off are the TV journalists; some organisations provide the technical gear and expect stories to be filed even from far-flung areas — though they would not be ready to pay for the expenses.
In most cases, stringers work without formal appointment letters — primarily as slave workers. This, of course, makes them vulnerable to threats as well as financial corruption. Owners of newspapers and channels expect them to bring business; the more the business, the better the payment in the form of commissions, they said. Such an expectation and the refusal to pay a formal wage easily prompts many to sing the song of the mighty in their respective locality.
Reliance on tribal warlords and their militias for counter-insurgency objectives exposes journalists and society at large to multiple risks and has long-term implications for social peace, said a senior journalist.
We are supposed to report on governance flaws and accountability of government institutions, but our employers hardly apply those principles when dealing with us, they complained.
A journalist associated with a national as well as a foreign channel said that owners of media houses are not bothered about the protection of their workers at all. Their primary interest lies in exclusive stories, for which sometimes adventurous journalists risk their own lives.
Even in Quetta, mainstream journalists complained that the situation for journalists was quite formidable as their employers usually remained insensitive to their legitimate financial and security needs.
Journalists present in the consultation also quoted the emergence in mid- April of a religious-political group in Panjgur. The group has willfully decreed that girls’ schools be shut down because they are against religion. The administration is mum, despite several protests by the civil society, with local journalists opting to refrain from reporting on the group’s activities.
The media in Balochistan is certainly caught between the rock and the deep sea — mighty tribal leaders and their followers on the one side and the state on the other. Journalists usually must tread the path with extreme caution; they are exposed to reprisal if they report even objectively on a feud between two tribal chieftains. They face similar intimidation, which may translate even into physical elimination, in case of reports which the militants or military may see as detrimental to their image.