State of the media in Balochistan in 2009
The Baloch Editorial: State of the media in Balochistan in 2009January 1, 2010
By Malik Siraj AKbar
In a report that described the outgoing year 2009 as a “crucial year for Pakistani journalists”, the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) has mentioned in detail the sufferings of the journalists in Balochistan, the conflict-stricken province of Pakistan. Balochistan is a hazardous zone for working journalists as they are required to report from a region that is in the grip of a military operation, state repression, an expanding separatist movement, increasing sectarianism and highly suspected presence of Taliban and Al-Qadea leaders.
Haji Wasi Ahmed, a journalist working with Baloch newspapers Daily Azadi and Daily Balochistan Express, was mentioned in the PFUJ report as the only journalist from Balochistan to have been killed while performing his professional duties in 2009. He was killed in Khuzdar on April 13, 2009. “He was the highly respected correspondent of Daily Azadi and Daily Balochistan Express and the president of newspaper’s body,” the PFUJ observed.
Working conditions in Balochistan were not as bad as in the North Western Frontier Province (NWFP). The only thing that went unnoticed and remained a cause of unrest and dissatisfaction was the unchanged structure of the media in Balochistan. More than any other domain of life, media is very strictly controlled by some hidden powers. They make sure, as today is the case, that Balochistan does not have a powerful indigenous media. This is the sad state of affairs in the media in a province that is almost always ruled by the military, not the so-called elected representatives of the masses.
Thus, Balochistan has been deliberately deprived of an indigenous press.
The people of Balochistan were forced for a long time to read newspapers that were headquartered outside the province and had a friendly stance towards every government. Unwilling to carry a single editorial or op-ed page article on Balochistan for several months, these newspapers never tried to raise the voice of the people. They did not protest over the military operation or the killing of Baloch leaders. They overlooked the violation of human rights. The only interest these newspapers had was to get official advertisements and supplements from the Directorate of Public Relations (DPR), an organ of the provincial government, and Press Information Department (PID), a department of the federal government.
Every government discouraged the rise of an independent media in the province by bribing the so-called ‘national newspapers’ with official advertisements. Since Balochistan does not have any significant industries, newspapers published from the province are very unlikely to get corporate advertisements. As the only source of revenue and sustainability for the Quetta-based newspapers is official advertisements, the government uses these advertisements as a tool to discourage professionalism and patronize sycophancy. This practice continues today as it has proved to be a very effective tool to muzzle the voice of the press and make it soft towards the government.
With the induction of electronic media revolution, Balochistan’s issues should have been reported more regularly in the private news channels. On the contrary, the true picture from Balochistan still fails to make ample space in the so-called national electronic media. There are very sad but valid reasons for the blackout of Balochistan’s problems in the national media: The owners of private news channels and the big guns in the powerful political quarters seem to have developed an understanding that young, qualified Baloch journalists should not be given jobs in their Quetta offices.
For instance, Pakistan’s most popular news TV channel, Geo News, does not have a single Baloch reporter in its Quetta bureau. Baloch journalists are discriminated against on ethnic basis.
Likewise, there are no Balochs working in the Quetta offices, which are often described as the provincial bureaus, of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Voice of America, Dawn, the News while the Baloch representation in other key media organizations is depressingly low. Many times, the Balochs are denied jobs on the instruction of the state intelligence agencies.
Quoting one such example, the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) said in its latest report, ” a Quetta-based Baloch Bureau Chief of a leading news channel was sacked from his job reportedly on the instructions of security forces after he interviewed the chief of Jundullah, an Iranian Sunni militant group, who was wanted by Iran and accused of hiding somewhere in Pakistan. The state apparatus got the Baloch journalist fired under the pretext that the interview undermined Pakistan-Iran Relations.”
The PFUJ also pointed out that “the majority populated Balochs complain that state intelligence agencies influence hiring and firing policies of several private news channels and newspapers. Most Balochistan offices of key media houses of the country do not have a single Baloch reporter as they are often discriminated against because of their alleged anti-government views.”
The year 2009 would be remembered for the disgraceful attacks on the media in Balochistan. A popular Baloch newspaper, Daily Asaap was forced to shut after its editor-in-chief Jan Mohammad Dashti was attacked in an assignation attempt earlier this year. In August, the offices of Daily Azadi and Balochistan Express were besieged by the Frontier Corps (FC) for at least two weeks. These attempts were made during a democratic government to influence the work of the independent media.
Though attacks on the media are a part and parcel of the a struggling democracy that has been overshadowed by dictatorship, we want the international media groups to take notice of the “ethnic discrimination” being meted out with the Baloch journalists by various media organizations.
Until media organizations free themselves from all forms of biases, they are unlikely to report the truth. Preference should be given to the young qualified Baloch journalists in the job opportunities created in the media houses’ Balochistan offices. Instead of holding interviews in closed-rooms, merit should be given priority so that the Baloch boys and girls also get a chance to appear in competitive tests ad interviews intended to select journalists for different newspapers and television channels. It is extremely unprofessional to shut the doors of jobs in the media for the Balochs due to their ethnic background.
Lastly, the launching of Vash TV, Balochistan’s first satellite news channel and the Baloch Hal, Balochistan’s first online English newspaper, are two landmark initiatives in the history of Baloch press that took place in 2009. Both the organizations have proved it within a very short period of time that Balochistan does not face a dearth of talent but faces constant discrimination by the owners of national newspapers and channels. It is hoped that year 2010 will see a change in the policy of the media managers of Pakistan and jobs are given to Baloch professionals on merit the national media. The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), Reporters Without Borders and Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) should also take notice of Pakistani media’s unfair treatment with the Baloch professionals in the sphere of the media.