The fighting along the border in
is a classic counter-insurgency: a large military force trying to oust an
entrenched group from its base. Such armed conflict will always be risk-filled—especially
for local journalists—but government leaders, military officials, and
media executives can take basic steps to improve security.
Pakistani journalists have long asked that their employers
supply safety training and protective gear for combat situations. Some news
organizations did offer employees protective gear when fighting escalated this
year, but the vast majority of reporters (particularly those not embedded with
the military) were left to fend for themselves. Many journalists told me that even
full-time staff members for prominent, profit-making news organizations were sent
into the field without protective equipment. Pakistani news organizations
should equip all staff deployed in hostile environments with training and
equipment that meets internationally recognized standards.
The 2006 murder of Hayatullah
Khan in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas still resonates among his
colleagues, many of whom suspect that Pakistan’s powerful Directorate
for Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) was involved. The
government of Asif Ali Zardari can clear up
this question by releasing the August 2006 investigative report compiled by Peshawar
High Court Judge Mohammed Reza Khan, along with the findings of other
investigations commissioned at the time. If Judge Khan’s report was inconclusive,
the government should investigate further. Pakistan has one of worst
records in the world when it comes to deadly violence against journalists
and its own inability to solve these crimes. Releasing the Khan investigative
reports—and then following up—would demonstrate a commitment to changing this record
The government should ease coverage restrictions on reporters
embedded with the military. Suppressing footage or reporting,
even if they temporarily put the military in a negative light, is
counterproductive. A set of clearly written rules of reporting, agreed upon by
both sides, can both protect military security and ensure the integrity of news
coverage. In Peshawar, non-embedded journalists told me
they had little or no access to military commanders. Taliban militants, on the
other hand, maintain a 24/7 web of spokesmen, with lower-level commanders often
available for comment as well. The Pakistani military, while making some recent
strides toward better media relations, is still not as accessible as it should
be. In addition, the military should train its troops on rules of conduct when
encountering non-embedded journalists in the field.
And this final thought about the freedom and safety of local
journalists covering a war of global significance: As the U.S. government
calculates its strategy in Afghanistan
it should reassess its own approach toward journalists in the field. The U.S. military should
set an international example by training its troops on rules of conduct when
they encounter local reporters in the field. To be effective, those rules
should be written in consultation with the global community of journalists, and
the next edition of the military’s Counterinsurgency
Field Manual should include those rules. The COIN-FM reflects the most
current thinking of the world’s most prominent military. It is the rule book by
troops behave in the field, and those rules must be laid down clearly. Once the
has established those rules, it can use its influence on other militaries
around the world to adapt those practices too. The series:
Part 1: During an all-out military offensive, local reporters faced grave risks. Some literally lost their homes.
Part 2: Dozens of journalists flee the Swat Valley and nearby areas, leaving independent local coverage scant.
Part 3: Coverage of the fighting was left in large part to Pakistani reporters from outside the region who had embedded with the military.
Part 4: Hayatullah Khan was murdered in 2006 in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. The government investigated—and then kept its reports secret.
Part 5: Government, media can undertake reforms to improve security.