The HRCP’s call to address threats against journalists

A quick pointer to a statement issued by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan on Monday: It said, in part, that “The HRCP is alarmed at reports of threats received by journalists on account of their work.” The commission asked the government to ensure that threats to journalists end and that risks associated with practicing journalism in general are eliminated, as noted in the English-language daily Dawn.

The statement came from Zohra Yusuf, chairperson for the HRCP, and its final sentence noted, “HRCP also supports the journalists facing threats and lauds their courageous decision to make the threats against them public.”

Thank you, Ms. Yusuf. CPJ supports your words. Yusuf has written frequently about journalism in Pakistan, and she always seems to get it right.

In my thinking, the links on HRCP’s homepageKarachi: Unholy alliances for mayhem; Balochistan: Blinkered slide; Judicial Action to End Bonded Labor; Police organizations in Pakistan;  Internal Displacement in Pakistan; and Swat: Paradise regained? are just a sampling — are a catalog of Pakistan’s social and political dysfunction. They put journalists’ problems into the broader perspective, and explain why it will be hard to find a solution for them. Appeals like HRCP’s to the government to step forward and take responsibility and action are legitimate and necessary. But given the state’s inability to deliver a stable society in so many other areas of Pakistan, it falls to journalists, their professional organizations, and the media industry to act in their own defense.

And I don’t mean they should arm themselves. They should unite behind programs that will train all of them, particularly the most vulnerable, in ways to protect themselves. Here are some ideas have been put forward by senior journalists in Pakistan, which need support to become more than just a wish list:

Field training for the reporters, TV producers, camera crews, and photographers whose job it is to cover the violence that now seems almost endemic in the country.

A coordinated, institutional, media industry-organized effort to respond to those threats that the HRCP has identified. Threats tend to isolate individuals who fear for their safety and that of their families. It is a brave thing for prominent journalists to make public the threats they face, but it is another thing for those without the fame and name recognition to make their own dire situation known.

A plan to get this sort of training and protection to freelancers in remote areas and those in the cities that don’t have the coverage their colleagues at larger media companies enjoy. As the media industry transforms in Pakistan, more journalists fall into those categories.

And, though the relation to safety isn’t direct, several editorial managers have spoken of the need to professionalize their younger staff, as well as get more experienced staff up to speed on emerging digital technologies. A media center at a prominent university, one that could grow into a school of journalism, is a realistic goal. 

Yusuf and the HRCP are right to call on the government “to ensure that journalism does not remain such a dangerous profession in Pakistan” but they should also work with journalists to confront these problems without waiting for the government to meet its responsibilities.