The price of a misleading headline
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By: Mazhar Abbas
“Balach ko apni zameen bhi nahi mili” was the misleading headline ‘given’ to an article written by senior columnist Abdus Salam, alias Dr Chishti Mujahid, printed in the country’s leading Urdu weekly, Akhbar-e-Jehan, at the death of Baloch nationalist leader Mir Balach Marri. This headline eventually resulted in the murder of Dr Mujahid on February 9, 2008.
Even though this furthered the stance that both Balochistan and Fata were Pakistan’s most dangerous areas for journalists, Dr Mujahid’s case was different from that of the 28 other journalists killed in Balochistan in recent years. His was the first case where a group — the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) — claimed responsibility.
Dr Mujahid, a regular columnist for Akhbar-e-Jehan, was assassinated after receiving threats for his article on Mir Balach Marri. The weekly printed a highly provocative headline against Marri, perhaps not realising the possible consequences of this action, which outraged the Baloch nationalists.
Pakistan has been ranked the most dangerous country in the world for journalists, which makes Balochistan the ‘killing field’ for journalists within the country. Journalists in Balochistan have disclosed that if they get a press release from an extremist group, it is not the organisation but the militants who decide the space which will be given to it in the paper and no editing is allowed to be done to it. Dr Mujahid paid the price of writing the article on Mir Balach Marri’s death anniversary. It became a grave problem because an already critical article was given an even more provocative headline, that too, without the knowledge of the writer. The BLA reportedly defended the killing by saying that Dr Mujahid was working against Baloch interest. Hence, on the morning of February 9, 2008, as Dr Mujahid and his wife came out from their house, two unidentified gunmen opened fire on him, leaving him dead on the spot.
What actually went wrong in this whole incident was never properly investigated, either by the government or by his own media group. Thus, his killing was directly linked to his journalistic work. Therefore, whether in print or in electronic media, journalists must take extra care of the language they use when reporting from conflict zones or when writing about sensitive issues.
The late journalists Hayatullah Khan, Munir Sangi, Mohammad Ibrahim, Musa Khan Khel, Saleem Shahzad and a few others, were killed for their journalistic work in which they got themselves in dangerous positions while reporting.
The practice of journalism in Pakistan faces many challenges, but the biggest one is the threat to fair and unbiased reporting, due to which around 100 journalists have been killed in the past 12 years alone, making freedom of expression a ‘dream’.
Journalists have now started discussing what is more important — freedom of press or freedom to live. In the last few months, two sons of the president of the Khuzdar Press Club were killed and the general secretary of the same club was murdered. Likewise, 28 journalists have been murdered in Balochistan alone.
Hundreds of journalists work in fear and under pressure in Balochistan, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Fata and even in Pakistan’s largest economic hub, Karachi. Most of them refuse to quit the profession because they love their work, even if it is at the cost of their lives.