Kiyya Qadir Baloch
Balochistan, territorially the largest province of Pakistan, has become a hotbed of insurgency, sectarian linked killings, acts of kidnapping for ransom, tribal feuds and numerous other issues, which require vigilant reporting and communication to the world.
The journalists in Balochistan have been performing their duties with utmost honesty and sometimes at the cost of their lives. The province, some say, has become the most dangerous place on the planet for the journalist to perform their professional duties. As many as 35 journalists from Balochistan have lost their lives in different acts of violence, explosions and targeted killings.
Shahzada Zulfiqar a senior journalist and resident chief of Daily Pakistan Today from Quetta considers Balochistan one of the most insecure places in Pakistan for journalists, saying that although several journalists had been killed in FATA, it has to be recognized that a full fledged army operation is going on there against terrorism but situation of Balochistan is entirely different where various groups and militant organization would rather want to practically take over the media.
“They want to dictate us and say the pen should be yours, but worlds ours and they use various derogatory words for their opponents which, they insist, should be published without change which is not possible for journalists since they have to take into consideration the ethical code of journalism,” Shahzada said and added that the Khuzdar (A suburb area of the province) situation was thoroughly uncongenial for the journalists where two sons of the President of Khuzdar Press Club were killed and even in (Nov 1, 2012 ) a United Nations report on human rights violation has been published in Balochistan which clearly says that the journalists and their families are targeted in Balochsitan and Pakistan’s Foreign Minister could not defend it.
Shahzada said that situation of Balochistan was dangerous because militant groups existed here and they do not accept any law and they follow their own laws which has thoroughly infringed the freedom of press. “It would not be wrong to say that freedom of press does not exit altogether in Balochistan,” he said.
When asked about the closure of Khuzdar Press Club, he said it was all due to insecurity where existence of government could not be felt. “As many as 40 to 50 people have been killed during the last one month in Khuzdar who also include journalist Abdul Haq and three presidents of Khuzdar Press Club have been targeted, one after the other. The latest attack was on Nadeem Gurgnari whose two sons were targeted. Khuzdar has completely been paralyzed,” he added.
No investigation is conducted about the killing of the journalists despite the fact the relatives of the killed journalists are ready to point-out the suspects, he said and added that then it was the duty of Police and FC, which also had the Police powers to arrest the suspects and interrogate them.
He further said that the journalists in Quetta faced problems when militant organizations call them and ask them to publish this or that statement in the way dictated by them and if the journalists talk about the ban on such statement by government or court, the militant organizations declare them “Wajib ul Qatal” (Liable to be killed).
When asked if the Supreme Court’s interim order multiplied the issues of journalists, he said that being a citizen of Pakistan, journalists were bound to respect court orders and added that journalists too are responsible for certain mistakes. “If a militant organization asks, and not a journalist, but a news agency which feeds all the newspapers publishes some unethical words, it really violates the codes under which journalists operate and get their declarations and license,” he said. He further said, “However, I would definitely say that Al Qaeda is a banned organization and their statements were aired by BBC, CNN and other international organizations and even today any reporter comes to know about Mulla Umar, they would definitely want to interview him but would air his comments cautiously and our friends are also doing their jobs but in a cautious way where sometimes they give space in two or four lines to banned outfits statements despite court orders in place.”
Shahzada Zulfiqar said that government had not paid a single penny in compensation to the journalists who lost their lives in the line of their duties neither their families had been paid any social security. He said that Rehman Malik several times talked about such compensations but in vain, adding that UNESCO had only paid Rs. 100,000 to the dependants of Muhammad Khan Sasoli otherwise no compensation from government of Balcohistan or Federal government had been announced. He further said that Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) has allocated some amount for the journalists who face some threats and some Journalists of Khuzdar received some amount from the organization but government representatives never bothered about journalists’ fate.
Shahzada Zulfiqar also said that the journalists of Balochistan were highly underpaid and there were certain reporters who worked on 2 or 3 thousand rupees per month. He said that journalists in the interior were not paid by their organizations and journalists in Balochistan are totally at the mercy of their organizations owners. “Whenever they are unhappy with their work due to one reason or the other, they fire them,” he said.
Syed Ali Shah, Bureau Chief DAWN TV, commenting on the issues of the journalists in Balochistan said that the hazards have grown for the media men in Balochistan in proportion to the rapid growth of media as the journalists with little or no experience can not evaluate the inherent risks within the profession. “As far as Balochistan is concerned there were a few journalists but their number is in hundreds now and the journalists working in the field are unaware of the journalistic code of ethics, they are unaware of balanced reporting, and they play with dangers,” Syed Ali Shah said and added that journalists can only be at safer side when they resort to balanced journalism and include versions of both the parties.
He further said that a specific situation prevailed in Balochistan and a single word could prove lethal for journalists as there is a very strong tribal and political system in Balochistan, on the one hand and militant and groups had their hold on the other hand. “These conditions demand of the journalists a high degree of cautious,” he said.
Essa Tareen, the Bureau Chief Al Jazeera TV in Balochistan and President of Balochistan Union of Journalists (BUJ), expressing his views regarding the issues of journalists in Balochistan said that journalists in Balochistan faced dual issues, which included economic issues at the first place and life threats. Mr. Essa Tareen seemed unhappy with the remunerations paid to the journalists in Balochistan by local newspaper owners, saying that the owners of newspapers pleaded that their organizations depended on the advertisements, which were insufficient to meet their expanses. He said that the minimum wages set up by the government were around 7 thousand and newspaper owners should pay their employees in accordance with the laws set up by government. Essa Tareen seemed highly concerned with the threats faced by journalists in Quetta and quoted examples of Nadeem Gurgnari, whose sons were killed recently in Khuzdar, and Abdul Haq and several others. Mr. Essa Tareen also expressed his concerns regarding the threats faced by journalists from different banned outfits.
Noor Elhai Bugti, a senior journalist who also survived a bomb blast, said that Balochistan journalists were faced with more dangers than that of the FATA as journalists here faced threats from insurgent and other banned outfits. “They do not understand our role and position and every person thinks his statement to be important but they do not understand our journalistic obligations,” Noor Elhai Bugti said, adding that a senior journalist in Balochistan lost his life due to a single mistake of a sub-editor. He said that the journalists did not have anything for their protection and they did not have any intentions against anybody but there were several cases in different Police stations of Balochistan against journalist under Anti-terrorist Act. Mr. Bugti also lamented that when it came to the foreign tours, the Balochistan journalists were ignored and journalists from other provinces were preferred.
Baloch journalists in Balochistan do not have basic training and safety trainings. “They neither have job nor life security in journalism. The Baloch journalists are always seen with suspicious eyes in the provinces and certain banned outfits wanted to impose their will and opinion on the journalists in Balochistan. We stress upon the journalists community to take the issue seriously and help us coming out from these matters which we are facing in Balochistan.
Kiyya Qadir Baloch is a freelance journalist associated with Daily Times Lahore currently based in Islamabad. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or Cell No# 0322-3074696