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Safety of reporters prerequisite for press freedom, moot told

KARACHI: Pakistani journalists have been facing grave security threats, especially in conflict areas, and all stakeholders should take efforts to improve safety of reporters, a prerequisite for press freedom, said speakers on a consultative dialogue on “Conflict Sensitive Reporting in Print Media.

The moot was organized in Karachi by Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF) with support of Search for Common Grounds (SFCG) and Danish International Development Agency (Danida).

The speakers said there is need of devising a carefully written standardized terminology for sensitive words to ensure safety of journalists covering sensitive topics and working in conflict areas. They said that media organizations such as Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) and Council of Pakistan Newspapers Editors (CPNE) should develop a standardized list of terminology for sensitive words that threaten the safety of journalists.

The speakers said journalists face intense pressure from different groups over the use of words such as shaheed, killed, murdered, etc. They said if a standardized terminology is developed, then these threats to journalists could be reduced.

They said that professional training of journalism can also reduce conflicts and threats and help forming a peaceful society. They said that critical situation in Balochistan and other conflict areas have made reporting next to impossible because of the pressure from different sides such as law enforcement agencies, militants, local administration and political groups.

Ramzan Chandio, staff reporter of Daily The Nation from Karachi said that media is biased towards reporting the issues of Balochistan, adding that to avoid conflicts or pressure from different groups, journalists should highlight the suffering of the people living in Balochistan on humanitarian grounds.

Haroon Siraj, staff reporter of Daily The Nation from Swat said that he faced many problems at local level due to reporting on Malala Yousufzai incident, adding that some elements sitting in media organizations do not encourage reporting on stories based on social issues. He told the audience that his father, Sirajuddin, who was associated with Nawa-i-Waqt and The Nation, was killed by Taliban for reporting the facts.

Another journalist Safdar Ali, reporter of Daily Sahab from Sahiwal said that his arm and leg were broken for reporting against drug mafia.

During discussion, the journalists said that besides safety and security issues, they are also facing other issues including non-payment of salaries, non-availability of internet and fax facility, footage sending issues, etc.  They also highlighted the issue of lack of support by media organizations to their reporters in case of any conflict or filing of cases against them.

Gonila Gill, reporter of Dunya News from Lahore said that journalists are facing difficulties while reporting as in some cases, real stories are killed due to consideration at the management level.

Secretary General PPF, Owais Aslam Ali said that basic purpose of this consultation is to increase tolerance and promote solution-oriented mindsets in our society. He said that safety is the main issue for journalists working in conflict zones.  He said that those who attack or threaten journalists should be given punishment to end the culture of impunity in Pakistan. In this connection, United Nations General Assembly has passed a resolution on the safety of journalists and the issue of impunity and declared 2 November as International Day to End Impunity.   He said that a Coalition for Media Safety in Pakistan has been formed to combat impunity.

Trainer and senior journalist, Faysal Aziz Khan, said that there is an ‘understanding issue’ between the desk and out-station reporters (OSRs), which can be improved through proper communication on part of the OSR before starting work on any story. He added that one has to follow the policies of the organizations, and understanding the laws and policies will give clear guidelines for work.

Fiza Hussain of SFCG said that collective efforts will be continued for promoting greater tolerance and creating space for dialogue for peaceful Pakistan.

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