Journalists express concern over media freedom in Balochistan
* Imitiaz Gul says state, non-state actors, should spare media from rivalries, not subject it to fear, intimidation
By Mohamamd Zafar
QUETTA: There is no free and independent media in Balochistan, as different pressure groups and powerful elements have been harassing and terrifying media persons, which have led to the killing of 22 journalists in the last four years.
This was declared in a workshop on ‘Media and Civil Society in Balochistan’, organised by Centre for Research and Security Studies (CRSS) in collaboration with Association for Integrated Development (AID) on Sunday.
Speaking on the occasion, senior journalist and CRSS Executive Director Imtiaz Gul said, “Media is facing challenges, constraints and operational difficulties in reporting in Balochistan. It is the duty of all state and non-state actors, and stakeholders, to spare the media from their rivalries and not subject them to fear, intimidation and dictation.”
He appreciated the media for their performance in Balochistan’s difficult environment. He said it was the responsibility of both the media and the civil society to face up to the challenges that the province faced today.
Gul also paid tributes to the 22 journalists, who had lost their lives in the province over the past four years.
Quetta Press Club General Secretary and reporter of a leading Urdu daily, Abdul Khaliq Rind; said, “You cannot look at media’s work in isolation. You cannot write about any group. It is very difficult for us all.” Rind further said that decades of discrimination was the prime reason for intellectual and economic backwardness in Balochistan.
Khalil Ahmed, a reporter of a private TV channel, said, “We have not been given access to information, even we cannot report corruption cases.” He said that due to the geographical importance of Balochistan, the US, China, Iran and Afghanistan played a significant role in the region to protect their interests.
Irfan Rana, a reporter from a private TV channel, talked about the hazards of reporting in Balochistan. He said, “We follow blasts and are usually exposed to terrorist attacks.” Rana added that whenever journalists in Balochistan reported something, pressure groups asked them to amend it and warned of dire consequences if their “orders” are not obeyed.
Irshad Mastoi, the bureau chief of an online news agency, said, “All resistance movements approach us for coverage and political parties and some institutions also behave with us like resistant groups,” adding that political leaders force journalists to cover their specific “press release”. He observed that society was extremely militarised in Balochistan.
Shahid Rind, the bureau chief of a private TV channel, said that the media faced pressures from powerful institutions, political leaders, militants and criminals. He said, “We get dictation from all stakeholders, so we cannot follow journalistic norms, as we face threats. There are red lines and we cannot dare be objective in reporting.”
He said that dictation, censure, fear, intimidation and blackmailing by pressure groups defined journalists’ formal reporting.
Abdullah Baloch, staff representative of a local language news channel, said that objective reporting was the biggest challenge as all ‘big guns’ in Balochistan pressurised the media, which hindered objective reporting. He said, “Even NGOs and trade unions put pressure on journalists to file news stories as per their dictation.”
Akbar Sheikh, another speaker pointed out that disappointment, frustration and fear had angered and irritated the Baloch, who as a result mistreated the media. He suggested that if government jobs were given to the thousands of unemployed university and college graduates of Balochistan, society would become more tolerant.
Sheikh further said, “When political statements become news, instead of stories about crime, court, sports, health, education and environment; then media persons will have to face threats and consequences.”
Other journalists present at the workshop were National Party Senior Vice President Dr Ishaq Baloch, senior journalists Shehzada Zulfiqar, Liaquat Ali, Aslam Baloch, Arshad Jan and Hammad Sanjrani.