Pakistan’s occupation of places of ignominy on lists rating countries in various spheres is something we are accustomed to. But the evidence that we are adding to the areas in which we rank among the worst in the world is frightening. According to the annual report released by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Pakistan is now the deadliest nation in the world for journalists. The total numbers of journalists who were killed this year is 42, out of which eight were in Pakistan, the highest number in any one country. Suicide bombings and being caught in crossfire were largely blamed for the causes of these deaths. Iraq follows Pakistan in terms of numbers of casualties, with four journalists killed this year.
The statistic is an alarming one. It shows just how unsafe journalists are on the ground. Reporters, stringers and TV cameramen are among the most vulnerable, since the nature of their job requires them to be close to the action as it happens.
It is, of course, no coincidence that a number of those killed have died in tribal areas. It is here that conditions are most hazardous and media persons on the ground are most likely to be targeted by those involved in a conflict that has many complex dimensions. The death of so many journalists is, however, not entirely a matter of accident. It is also a fact that they receive too little protection from authorities whose duty it is to ensure they are able to carry out their work safely and without hindrance. In some cases, agencies and other groups linked to authorities have actually played a part in putting the lives of media professionals at risk.
Newspapers, TV channels and other media organisations need to consider the CPJ report carefully. In the first place, their employees need insurance. What is, however, even more crucial is to work to create a safer environment for journalists to perform their professional duties. Pakistan’s ranking as the most dangerous place in the world for journalists suggests the environment has changed rapidly for reporters. A new strategy needs to be worked out to keep them safe. The government and bodies representing working journalists and media organisations must work together to achieve this.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 17th, 2010.