Journalists Safety Issues of the Rural Areas of Pakistan
May 10, 2022
Press Freedom Organization Rural Media Network Pakistan (RMNP) organized World Press Freedom Day Roundtable on May 10,2022 in the premises of Union Council Mubarakpur in collaboration with Daily newspaper Nawa-I-AhmedpurSharqia and Press Club Mubarakpur.
It was attended by Presidents & General Secretaries of the five Press Clubs of Noorpur Nauranga, Samasatta, Mubarakpur, KhairpurDaha and Naushera Jadid, besides regional political leaders of mainstream political parties, academics, civil society representatives, journalists and press freedom advocates. PTI leader Prince Bahawal Abbas Khan Abbasi heir apparent to Amir of Bahawalpur was the key-note speaker in this RMNP World Press Freedom Day Roundtable.
President RMNP Ehsan Ahmed Sehar opened the debate by presenting the extracts of RMNP annual press freedom report. He expressed his deep concern that Pakistan has fallen by 12 places to 157 out of 180 countries, according to the Reporters Sans Frontiers (RSF) report released on the World Press Freedom Day. In 2021, Pakistan was ranked 145 on the Paris-based media watchdog RSF World Press Freedom Index.
President RMNP stated Pakistan is one of the world’s deadliest countries for journalists, where from January 2021 to May 9, 2022, eleven journalists have been killed out of which seven were residents of small towns and rural areas. He said that press freedom and journalists in both rural and urban areas of Pakistan experienced significant setbacks and difficulties throughout 2021.Members of the media were consistently targeted and their work was increasingly restricted by government, intelligence agencies, powerful feudal and religious extremists. So far, all evidence suggests that 2022 will continue in the same vein, early indications point to a worsening situation for rural journalists. He cited the examples of those Sindhi journalists and rural journalists based in South Punjab who were killed, tortured and kidnapped but “Justice delayed and denied to them and their heirs.” Since its foundation, RMNP has fundamentally based in philosophy and methodology prospects on findings with actions employing its monitoring as a tool for advocacy, which in turn serves as a practical follow-up action to lobby for journalist’s safety, Mr. Ehsan said. He recognized that all efforts exerted so far to advocate for press freedom remain humble compared to the gravity of the violations still executed against journalists and media organization’s in Pakistan. President RMNP stressed that it has become imperative to open channels of communication among media practitioners, regulators, lawyers, politicians,academics and civil society to discuss ways of improving the state of the media. Mr. Ehsan told the audience that RMNP is planning to undertake the responsibility to be closely involved in getting journalists trained on interpreting laws that affect them and ways of avoiding hazards.
He announced the decision of RMNP jury to give “RMNP Annual Sadiq Press Freedom Award” Category C to President Press Club Muhammad Akmal Abbasi who was kidnapped, tortured and detained by an influential kiln owner of the area against whom the journalist had aired a story on the charge of the violation of environmental law.
Press Freedom Coordinator RMNP Ijaz Ahmed Khan advocate taking part in discussion informed the participants that Rural Media Network Pakistan (RMNP) is pioneer of Journalists Safety training in Pakistan. RMNP since January 2011 to March 14, 2022 organized a total 31 training workshops and three seminars in those areas, where journalist were working in hostile environment. Giving details he told that RMNP with the support of UNESCO organized a total 12 Journalists Safety training workshops and one safety seminar from 2011 to 2019 while 18
Journalists Safety training workshops followed by a safety seminar were organized in collaboration with Doha Centre for Media Freedom from 2012 to 2018.He further told that despite the halting of core funding from daily newspaper since June 2020,RMNP organized one day journalists safety training session for the journalists of the riverine areas of three districts of South Punjab on 14th March 2022.RMNP Uchsharif facilitated this workshop. Press Freedom Coordinator revealed that RMNP Press Freedom Monitoring Desk is not functioning on regular basis for last two years while its website disappeared in the month of February 2022 due to the termination of services of the webmaster. Despite financial constraints, RMNP three volunteers are monitoring and documenting press freedom violations from their homes, while this World Press Freedom Day Roundtable is being held in collaboration with daily newspaper Daily Nawa-I-AhmedpurSharqia, he concluded.
Managing Editor daily Nawa-I-AhmedpurSharqia, Hameedullah Khan Aziz said that journalists in rural areas face unchecked abuses of power by political authorities, feudal lords and pressure groups, who have the means and the will to deliver brutal private punishment. He lauded the efforts of RMNP in defending press freedom and promotion of the freedom of expression. He expressed his concern regarding the safety issues of rural journalists in different areas where journalists have been attacked and beaten. Mr. Aziz told the participants that daily newspaper management would continue its small financial support to RMNP despite daily newspaper financial problems.
Five Press clubs of Mubarakpur, Naushera Jadid, Noorpur Nauranga, Samasatta and KhairpurDaha Presidents and General Secretaries, Faraz Haider, Tariq Malik, Akmal Abbasi, Rao Farooq Tisha, Mubasahar Syed, Faqir Muhammad, Asif Mehmood, Khizar Abbas, Khizar Abbas and Ameen Islam taking part in debate presenting alarming situation in some rural areas where journalists are at risk. They revealed that both print and electronic media journalists are frequently becoming victims of many forms of harassment and physical harm including arrests, illegal detentions, kidnapping, physical injuries, threats of deaths, and raids on their homes, false legal actions and threats to their family members. They stated that due to the non- regular functioning of the RMNP 18 years old Freedom of Expression of Monitoring Desk, hundreds of attacks on press freedom are being not reported for last two years. Speakers further said that religious extremism continues to spread in many areas and there are many sectarian organization’s fighting for domination, drugs and arms mafias, assassins, ethnic groups and other criminal gangs are also active. Religious leaders, keen to have their speeches denouncing other sects published in full, threaten journalists who resist. They added that local religious leadership does not understand that correspondents have no control over editorial policy, and the journalists receive threatening text messages from militants—- this is serious matter and deserves immediate action at the highest level. Journalists facing different threats in certain areas of the country, varying from influential figures harassing journalists who report on honor killing and gang rape incidents, to targeting by the Taliban, other militants and even security agencies. Authorities often falsely accuse journalists of various crimes should they carry out work exposing corruption, speakers while sharing their experiences. They urged RMNP to organize journalists’ safety, freedom of expression monitoring, investigative journalism and climate change awareness building training workshops to sensitize the journalists on these burning issues in rural areas and small towns.
President Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Haji Saeed Abbasi, President PPP Malik Mumtaz Kamboh, PML(N) leader Rao Muhammad Sadiq and two prominent educationists Muhammad Suleman Farooqi, Syed Tanveer Bukhari thanked President RMNP Ehsan Ahmed Sehar for choosing Mubarakpur town for holding World Press Freedom Day Roundtable after the passage of 18 years. They highlighted the glaring absence of female journalists in rural areas of Pakistan and said that rural societies in Pakistan are highly segregated and in the grip of feudal lords and religious powers. Men can not report the women issues due to cultural barriers; they can’t approach and talk with women freely, so the almost none-existence of women journalists means that media does not cover a large segment of rural life. Women perspective is missing in the news coverage. They underlined an urgent need to expose human rights violations against women in local and national media. Regional leaders of mainstream political parties and eminent educationists proposed to impart human rights training to local journalists as majority of rural journalists is unaware, how to cover human rights violations being occurred in rural areas of Pakistan where 65 percent inhabitants are living.
PTI leader Prince Bahawal Abbas Khan Abbasi in his key-note speech greeted RMNP for holding World Press Freedom Day Roundtable in Mubarakpur town. He appreciated the role of daily newspaper Nawa-I-AhmedpurSharqia in the creation of press freedom organization, Rural Media Network Pakistan which trained hundreds of rural journalists in far-flung areas during last 18 years where no other Pakistani organization reached. Prince Abbasi asked the journalists to take the advantage of “Protection of Journalists & Media Professionals Act 2021”. This bill was kept pending since 2015, but on the demand of journalist’s community former Premier Imran Khan government took all stake holders on board and got approval of the Protection of Journalists bill from Senate and National Assembly last year, he said. Prince Bahawal Abbasi urged RMNP to strengthen and expand its national network of freedom of expression to gather, document and monitor violations against the media.
Distribution of UNESCO Resource Material: Prince Bahawal Abbas Khan Abbasi gave UNESCO Resource Material for Journalists in Conflict to eleven journalists of five rural press clubs of Mubarakpur, Naushera Jadid, Samasatta, NoorpurNauranga and KhairpurDaha.
Journalists Friend Award 2022: Seven working journalists received “Journalists Friend Awards” from Prince Bahawal Abbas Khan Abbasi which were conferred upon them by the newspaper Daily Nawa-I-AhmedpurSharqia as recognition of their services which they had rendered for the betterment of journalist’s community.This debate concluded by issuing the following conclusions and recommendations:
a) Rural journalists are particularly vulnerable as they operate without physical safety: there are
no contracts and no safety equipment ( helmet etc.) provided by the media house they work for.
b) Lack of safety prevails due to increased politicization of the media, and as a result journalists becoming soft targets by various parties, government, rebel groups, terrorist groups and others.
c) There is serious lack of protection by media houses of their own journalists: media houses have a responsibility.
d) Lack of safety of journalists eventually result in poor journalistic quality; journalists can’t cover a story properly if they are put in a frontline without the necessary experience and training to overcome certain barriers or dangers.
e) A strategy to raise awareness about the informative role of the journalists in a society is needed to rebuild trust between the media, civil society and government and make sure reporters can do their work safely.
Source: Daily Nawa-I-AhmedpurSharqia