Khanbela (Rural Pakistan) Two hundred journalists attended series of twelve safety training workshops in twelve different locations of Rural Pakistan. Training programme was organized by RMNP in collaboration with DCMF. The participants of these workshop explained that they considered reporting on the government, politics, religious extremism and terrorism as life-threatening, and discussed a number of examples which have involved themselves or colleagues being victims of threats or physical attacks because of the stories on which they have reported. “Receiving threats via SMS or on phone is a very common thing for journalists here. Political and religious groups want stories in their favour,” said several journalists who participated in these training workshops.
The participants were advised not to file one-sided stories and to provide all parties involved with a chance to clarify their version of events. They were also informed that while covering extremist and militant groups’ activities they should concentrate on facts and avoid sensationalizing the stories. The first two sessions were held in Mubarakpur and Sadiqabad, while the other seminar took place in Chani Goth. All of these locations have seen violence against journalists in recent years, and they are known as particularly dangerous places to work for members of the media.
Mubarakpur, which has witnessed a number of violent incidents in recent months, was the location of the arrest of Shabbi Churra, a suspected member of the banned religious group, Jaish-e-Mohammad and a close comrade of the late terror suspect, Abu Talha.
According to reports, police arrested Churra at a hideout in the area, where they also found a large quantity of arms and ammunition, including mines, rocket launchers, hand grenades, suicide bombing jackets and other weapons.
Similarly, less than two weeks before the workshop in Chani Goth, an angry mob reportedly beat a man to death and set his body on fire for burning the Holy Quran.
The mob broke into a local police station to take the man, and a number of senior police officials were injured during the attack.
These kind of attacks and the hostile environment in rural areas of Pakistan have led to journalists and media officials fearing for their safety and feeling unable to perform their jobs properly.To help enable them to report safely, trainers advised journalists to take various precautions while working in risky areas and also to avoid rushing to break a story, urging them instead to verify the facts, death counts and to try to get opinions from both sides on any topic.
Participants were taught about various ways to work when dealing with a large crowd or mob of people, and also how to report on extreme situations, such as following a bomb blast.They were also given an insight on the different types of explosive materials and how to identify them and a course on first aid techniques.
Lecturers referred to national and international standards and advice established by the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) BBC and Reporters Without Borders guide in Urdu when debating on the role of the media in conflicts and the duties and responsibilities of journalists while reporting sensitive issues.All participants of twelve trainings received RMNP safety training manual in country Urdu language besides other training material.
Throughout the course of the workshops, RMNP President Ehsan Ahmed Sehar outlined his concerns for members of the media in Pakistan, making a number of recommendations for the future. He demanded that Pakistan’s Chief Justice, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry must take action to ensure that journalists no longer face false terrorism charges, such as those facing a number of daily newspapers at the moment. He highlighted the significant dangers facing journalists throughout areas such as Balochistan, referring to the number of journalists to have lost their lives in the districts and demanding an end to the impunity which continues to abound in Pakistan.
Sehar also mentioned the fact that Pakistan has been identified as one of the focus countries for the UN’s Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity, a decision which was welcomed by all of the workshops’ participants. The participants expressed their sincere gratitude to DCMF and RMNP for organizing the workshops, highlighting the importance of continuous safety and security training for journalists in rural Pakistan.
Participants, called upon the media houses to provide life insurance to journalists and assign only senior correspondents to report in particularly hostile zones. They put forward a resolution, unanimously adopted by all the journalists involved in the sessions, demanding that the government provide safety and security to journalists working in Pakistan and denouncing the situation which has developed in the country in recent years. According to RMNP, 45 journalists have been killed in three years, while more than 2,000 have been kidnapped, arrested or injured during the past 11 years in different areas of Pakistan, but not a single case has been investigated and no culprits have been arrested.“Reforms in media ethics and professional conduct are only possible when media organizations like All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS), Council of Pakistan Newspapers Editors (CPNE), Pakistan Broadcasters Association (PBA) and Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) unite for this cause. Whatever reforms are introduced must be acceptable to both the government and the working journalists, added Sehar.