In Balochistan, Journalism Is In Bad Shape: Shehzada Zulfiqar
Shehzada Zulfiqar is one of Balochistan’s most respected journalists. He has formerly served as the president of the Balochistan Union of Journalists (B.U.J.) and the Quetta Press Club for more than one term. A former Bureau Chief of Samaa Television and a regular contributor to the Herald and Agency France Press (A.F.P.), Mr. Zulfiqar has extensively reported on Balochistan, regional politics and press freedom issues. Our correspondent Muhammad Akbar Notezaispoke to Mr. Zulfiqar about the state of the media in Balochistan and the challenges.
How do you see the state of journalism in Balochistan?
Journalism, in my opinion, is in bad shape in Balochistan. In most of Balochistan, particularly in those places where armed struggle is going on and security forces are engaged, journalists face numerous problems over there.
Presently, the state of journalism is not only challenging in Balochistan but same is the case throughout Pakistan. Anyhow, in Balochistan the journalistic duties are seemingly impossible to be performed. The journalists are reporting and writing dangerously, that is, so far around 32 journalists have been reportedly killed in the province. And out of these 32, the 22 journalists were targeted mostly by security forces; some of them by separatist elements. Moreover, if we take the example of Balochistan’s restive districts like Dera Bugti and Kohlu, there is no journalism. No journalism means the journalists are bound there just to issuing or writing about press releases, etc, not more than that. They are just like clerks and conductors there, not in a position to write and report independently. Whenever they try to report or write something independently and indifferently, then they receive threats ruthlessly. That is why doing independent and indifferent journalism in Balochistan, especially in these two districts, has become a far-fetched idea.
In addition, Balochistan’s peaceful districts are also turning into dangerous places for journalists, like the Kharan District, where I spoke to my journalist colleague Haji Arif (Reporter at Vash TV). He said he was blind folded, tortured by security forces in Kharan. He was also taken by them to prison but soon he was released because they didn’t have evidence against him.
There is also no journalism in Balochistan’s bordering town Chaman, and you cannot send news regarding border’s situation from there.
On the other hand, Quetta, the provincial capital of Balochistan, is also replete with the same journalistic problems. Here we receive threats from security forces. We receive threats from Separatist elements. We receive threats from sectarian organizations that not to write and report against them. It means that they all want to take over the journalism.
Which districts of Balochistan are unsafe for journalists?
The districts of Balochistan which are unsafe for journalists: Khuzdar, Dera Bugti, Kohlu, Kalat, Kharan, Pasni, Panjgur, Kech, Gwadar, Chaman, and even Quetta.
Why is independent journalism not existent in Balochistan?
It is because of security forces which I said above about their engagement in Balochistan. Besides them, religious groups, separatist elements, political groups, students’ wings, sectarian organizations, all of them can be held collectively responsible for the absence of independent journalism in Balochistan. Also, all of them are having mammoth power to keep journalists away from doing independent journalism.
For example, there are groups that want to publish their statements with informally and rudely used words, like they call Shiite Kafir (Infidel), and want to get it published as it is which we cannot. We also receive threats for it. But we also publish their statements, in spite of it, whatever they write down in the press release. We also give tickers about them.
What steps are to be taken to improve the state of journalism in Balochistan?
For it, I think, unity is essentially required. Then, there is the need of state patronage; and state is bound to provide security, facilities to the journalists. So, it is the responsibility of state and government that can take it towards improvement. If we receive threats from any organization, then again the state and government ought to come forth to defend us. But, on contrary, we get threatened by state’s institutions.
Nevertheless, again, I say that journalists should be unified in Balochistan.
Are Balochistan’s journalists’ voices being listened at national and international level?
Of course, it is being listened at both the levels. And we are satisfied that International Human Rights Organizations, International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) listen to our voices.
Jahangir Aslam, who sustained injuries in a murderous attack, received global condemnation.
What kind of facilities do rural Balochistan’s journalists not have?
I rural areas of Balochistan, there are no facilities available for journalists. As I spoke to journalists based in rural Balochistan, one said he kept his own son as a cameraman because he himself did not get salary from my TV Channel. So, he wondered if he could hire someone else to do that job for him.
There are merely a few TV Channels that give the reporters salaries in few districts of Balochistan, not in all 30 districts.
In rural areas of Balochistan, journalists themselves help one and another.
These have been holding workshops, training centers in interior and exterior Balochistan for journalists. And the fund, which we received form USAID for Balochistan’s seven press clubs, provided the press clubs. We are thankful to American government for this monetary support for Chaman, Lorlai, Quetta, Naseerabad, Khuzdar, Sibi and Gwadar districts’ press clubs. These districts press clubs are now air-conditioned; do have computers, furniture and other equipment which may be cameras for local based journalists, etc.
What are economic challenges of Balochistan based journalist?
Economically, Balochitan based journalists are living in a very pathetic condition. They don’t get a single penny from their organizations. So, it is the exploitation of Balochistan based journalists.
In Quetta, a reporter is not even paid more than 3, 000 rupees monthly, while a photographer is, I think, paid around 2, 000 rupees. There is also much difference between Quetta based bureau chief’s salary with that Islamabad, Karachi, and Peshawar based bureau chief. Many more journalists are underpaid.
In Balochistan, just senior journalists are better because they are also affiliated with International news agencies and TV channels.
How can they get rid of these all economic challenges?
It is a long journey because Islamabad is least bothered about Balochistan. Similarly, same is the case with national TV Channels. So, I think, this mind-set should be changed for getting rid of these all economical challenges. They provide scanty amount to the reporters against their services. That is why it is up to them to change their attitude.
Why are journalists so vulnerable in Balochistan?
Because they are before the public. They also go to separatist leaders, intelligence agencies, land lords, Sardars, Nawabs, etc. In these circumstances, journalists should be very cautious not to cross the ‘invisible red line’. But sometimes I even cross the ‘invisble red line’, for example, I am writing for News-Line my articles. So, a friend of mine told me when I wrote on Gwadar Port and Pak-Iran gas pipe line: “Your writings can put you in trouble.” It means I had crossed the ‘invisible red line’ that my friend had realized and told me to be careful.
Again, I say that journalists should be careful for themselves and for their children before reporting and writing.
There are no ways to be followed for the protection for journalists. Balochistan has become a most ‘dangerous’ place for journalists. One of my journalist friends, Malik Siraj Akbar, had to seek political asylum in America due to the same worst circumstances. He knew that he would have a no space in Balochistan. That is why he had to stay there, not to come to Pakistan. But, unfortunately, all journalists cannot do so.
However, journalists should be unified at any cost in Balochistan for their protection. After that, they should think of their security before reporting anything. Then they shall neither annoy security forces nor separatist elements by reporting anything against them.
How do you condemn the killings of your fellow journalists?
Their killings are highly condemnable. My organization Balochistan Union of Journalists (BUJ), my organization Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) time n again condemns the sadistic killings of journalists in Balochistan.
Let me share one more thing that we condemn the journalists’ killings irrespective of their caste, creed, language and color.
Being a Baloch journalist, I went through the case of Mehmood Ahmed Afidi, who was killed by an underground organization in Kalat, Balochistan. He was guiltless. He had no links with intelligence agencies.
In the future, how can Balochistan be made a safe ground for journalists?
It seems to be a far-fetched idea that to see Balochistan a safe ground for journalists in the future, however, if all state and non-state organizations bothered themselves to realize the significance of free-journalism in the province. So, after that, situations may change.
Unlike other TV channels; Ayub Tareen (a reporter for BBC Urdu) was pulled out of Quetta by BBC. He received threats from an underground organization, but all TV channels or national newspapers cannot pull reporters out of Quetta. Therefore, I suggest that journalists should be careful so that they may be out of danger.
Published in The Baloch Hal on April 9, 2013