Interviewed by Muhammad Akbar Notezai
Mr. Tahir Rathore is chief reporter at Samaa TV, PFUJ’s (Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists) Federal Executive Council Member and Ex-President of RIUJ (Rawalpindin Islamabad Union of Journalists). He spoke to this blogger in an exclusive interview on the state of journalism in Balochistan.
How do you see independent journalism in Balochistan?
In my opinion, journalism in Balochistan is under tremendous stress due to various reasons. There is hardly independent journalism in the province due to various pressure groups. A pre-dominating factor of tribal society in the province is one pressure whereas ethnic and pressures from the establishment and militant groups, as well as the nationalist groups’ pressure also keep journalists away from independent journalism in Balochistan.
What do you think should be done to promote the state of journalism in Balochistan?
Answering this question is very difficult, actually the unbiased and independent journalism is not only hard in the province but throughout the country, it is becoming very difficult due to the reason that tolerance in Pakistani society is vanishing quickly. However the ideal state of independent journalism could not be attained in Balochistan. But there is a room to initiate dialogue by the journalist unions or press clubs as well as by the civil society with all the segments of the province to respect the independent journalism and journalists. The other step that may help in attaining the objective of independent journalism while focusing on unbiased, transparent and balance hard news or comments. Another important factor is to use appropriate words while filling or airing the news story — so that no one should get hurt; for example, if the armed groups do not want them to be named as separatists and militants. So, we may consider their liking, disliking and can use other alternative words like armed groups or so. There is also a dire need to avoid one sided version of the news story while reporting on conflict — all parties involved in the conflict should be given chance to explain their point of view in the news story related to the conflict. Also, sub-editors sitting in the news rooms should not give new angle to the story being filed by the reporters. And there are also many other factors which could be considered to improve journalism in the province and ultimately in the country.
In Balochistan, how can journalists’ journalistic abilities be enhanced?
Yes, this is a very important question, as I have already visited every district of Balochistan, so I feel that journalists working in the big cities like Quetta and so are following the international standards and ethics related to the journalism. However, a few in Quetta and more at the district levels need capacity building as far as distribution of professional responsibilities are concerned. This capacity building is vital not only for the sake of quality journalism but also for the safety of their lives. Don’t become news while gathering news. The techniques: how to write a news story for a newspaper and how to report on Radio and Television, is very important. The journalist stationed in Quetta must know in what circumstance he is reporting a conflict. He or she should realize that which segment of the society is very sensitive to the news about them. In an atmosphere where journalists are being dictated by pressure groups and are even asking a particular space in the newspapers or on the Radio and TV, one should realize how to report — but in my opinion, a report at the cost of your life is worthless. It has already been explained in earlier questions how to enhance professional abilities. The environment around you helps a lot to enhance your abilities to report.
What challenges do Balochistan’s journalists face, economically?
Though there are multi-dimensional challenges for a journalist working in Balochistan. Since you asked economically, so I should refrain myself to answer the sense of the question. In Quetta, a few newspapers and TV channels are paying to their journalists at appropriate level; even some are implementing the 7th Wage Award. However, still the most in Quetta and more in other cities are not being paid at the level their counterparts are getting in Punjab, Islamabad, Karachi, Peshawar and other big cities. However, the worst scenario that correspondents in far flung areas, even at district levels, they are not paid by the channels, newspapers and news agencies. Only a few pay which could be named. It is, therefore, all the district correspondents (except a few) are doing the other jobs, private business; even some of them are school teachers or the government servants. But those who are only working with Radio, TV or newspapers whole timers are getting marginal low payment.
What do you say about journalists’ security in Balochistan?
Since today we have lost lives of 31 journalists in Balochistan and 95 in entire country. So for certain journalists working under tremendous pressure by various groups — how could it be conceived that they are working in normal conditions and security situation for them is just fine? It is, therefore, in upper portion mentioned by me that journalists’ advocated organizations, unions and press clubs should initiate dialogue with all the pressure groups, even the security agencies, administrations and even with paramilitary forces to respect the journalism and journalists. It depicts the factor that journalist in the province is not secure at all. Neither he or she enjoys freedom of expression nor he or she enjoys to write news or comments freely.
What do you feel for your fellow journalists being killed in Balochistan?
I feel very sad, you perhaps know or not my son (15) died on April 4, 2009, he was my sole son; believe me, whenever I hear about any news of killing of my fellow journalists, especially in Balochistan, my pain becomes same as was on April 4. 2009. Therefore, I travelled all along Balochistan for safety and security workshops.
What sorts of facilities do Balochistan’s journalists not have?
As far as facilities are concerned, the press club in Quetta is wonderful and fully facilitated. However, the press clubs in other areas are not having excellent state of facilities. But the facilities are relevant terms, normally the institutions for which you are working, are responsible to provide all the required technical and professional facilities. The security of Journalists, well a reporter, who is walking in the street with pencil and copy is open to all, and it is merely impossible for him or her to have gunmen for the security. So the only way as I mentioned above, to convince the society for the respect of the journalists and journalism.
How do you see freedom of expression in Balochistan?
As far as freedom of expression is concerned, this objective could not be achieved at the cost of the life of journalists. But a dialogue could be initiated with all the pressure groups. If anybody or any of the groups has some complaints against the journalists, they can approach their unions or press club instead of picking up a gun. There are several more challenges being faced by the journalists in Balochistan, and I have explained above.
What role has PFUJ (Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists) been playing for the journalists of Balochistan?
PFUJ (Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists) is not only raising its voice against the killing of the journalists in the country, especially in Baluchistan, but also with PFUJ an international journalist body representing 100 journalistic unions in the world, i.e., International Federation of Journalists (International Federation of Journalists) is also raising voice against killing of journalists in Balochistan or any other part of the country. This is the job of the PFUJ; PFUJ with the cooperation of IFJ and IMS (International Media Support), had held over 70 training workshops (most of these were held in Balochistan) for capacity, safety and security. PFUJ is working for the insurance and compensation if a journalist gets killed in line of duty, from the government of Pakistan. Moreover, PFUJ is also working with international organization, including UN, to continue training and safety workshops. PFUJ also succeeded in establishing Pakistan Journalist Safety Fund (with the coordination of International Media Support (IMS) that provides assistance to the journalists under threat, dislocating them as well as assisting the bereaved families with financial support. Besides these all, PFUJ provided Umbrella to all those journalists working in the far flung areas in Balochistan. We also stand side by side with them in their home towns, when we visit them for training workshops.