Welcome to Journalistan
ISLAMABAD- They flooded in with hopes of scoops from Afghanistan, got stuck behind closed borders in Pakistan and their numbers have reached such a critical mass that the dateline joke is of ‘Journalistan.’
Since the start of the current crisis surrounding Afghanistan, the Pakistan authorities have registered 450 newly arrived jounalists in the country, although the real number is estimated at more than 700, with many having slipped in unofficially.
While veteran correspondents swap memories – ‘the Gulf in ’91, Somalia ’92, Bosnia’ others are having trouble simply working out where they are.
‘Three days ago, some of them didn’t even know where to place Pakistan on the map,’ said one Islamabad-based diplomat.
According to a customs official, one television crew had asked bemused officials at Islamabad airport for a flight to Pakistan.
Apparently their assignments editor had told them they were headed for Afghanistan and they presumed they had already arrived.
In Islamabad, the foreign press corps have taken over the city’s luxury hotels like the Marriot, whose root has become jungle of satellite antennae, cables and camera tripods.
The rooftop is the favoured location for live broadcasts, with the heads and shoulders of earnest television reporters framed against a backdrop of the Margalla hills that surround Islamabad – far smaller, sadly, than the mountains of neighboring Afghanistan.
In the hotel corridors, rooms have been transformed into editing suites and ad hoc newsdesks.
And in the main ground floor lobby, the celebrity reporters from major television channels greet their star interviewees in booming voices, while keeping a jealous eye on any big names trawled in by their competitors.
Wary of the reputations acquired by some hardened hacks, the hotel management felt obliged to issue a circular insisting that no one ‘visit the rooftop under the effects of alcohol in any circumstances’ a somewhat ironic request in this Islamic republic where alcohol is officially banned.
One of Islamabad’s few legal watering holes, ‘The United Nations Club’, has admitted to running dangerously low on liquor stocks.
And the Pakistani capital is not alone in bearing the foreign press invasion.
Around 150 journalists have descended on Peshawar, the northwestern frontier town lionised by Kipling and used by the CIA as a forward base in its support for the Afghan resistance movement during the Soviet occupation of 1979-89.
For Peshawar the press invasion has proved an economic windfall, with enterprising, street sellers doing a roaring trade in Osama bin Laden t-shirts.
Hotels and guest houses have upped their room rates to anywhere between 60 and 200 dollars a night, while journalist ‘fixers’ interpreters, and general arrangers have started charging from 150 to 300 dollars a day for their indispensable services.
Source: The Nation