Balochistan’s depressed Press
The Baloch Hal Editorial
By Malik Siraj Akbar
Daily Asaap. Abid Amin. Khuzdar Press Club. Malik Arif.
All these tags lead to divergent but equally disheartening conclusions which narrate an abysmal state of the press freedom in Balochistan. These tags help us to understand various dimensions of the threat journalists operating in the volatile Balochistan province constantly face. Consider:
Daily Asaap, an Urdu daily, was one of the most vocal and popular newspapers of Balochistan. It spoke against former military dictator General Pervez Musharraf’s antagonistic polices in Balochistan. The newspaper gave a dissenting voice to the people of the province. It encouraged the masses to dream differently by standing away from the mob. The newspaper gave birth to a generation of young Baloch writers who started writing about the problems of the marginalized section of the society. Understandably, the newspaper awfully perturbed the government. Its office in Quetta was besieged by the Frontier Corps (FC) in August 2009. The siege lasted for two weeks. Threats intensified as a military tank was stationed outside the newspaper office. Guns were brandished over the newspaper staff. Disappointed over the increasing threats faced by its staff members, the newspaper finally decided to shut down. That was the end of Asaap.
Abid Amin is the Bureau Chief of Balochi language satellite channel, Sabz Bath Balochistan (SBB) in District Turbat. Like so many of his peers, he had been threatened not to cover the first death anniversary of three Baloch leaders— Ghulam Mohammad Baloch, Lala Munir and Sher Mohammad— who were allegedly kidnapped and subsequently killed by the Frontier Corps (FC) personnel last year. Amin defied. Two weeks ago, he went on to cover the anniversary celebrations for his news channel. Soon, he was picked up allegedly by the FC as a punishment. The reporter went “missing” for three long days. Not a single “national” newspaper or news channel reported his disappearance. The poor reporter resurfaced after concentrated protests from the local communities. He had ended up as a “gentleman” once he was released by his captors.
The third story comes from Khuzdar District. Here, the local press club has been threatened in the recent weeks by a shadowy organization identifying itself as the Baloch Defense Group. The underground outfit has warned to “punish” all those journalists who venture to report the activities of Baloch nationalist parties and the armed groups. Thus, the fresh dictation restricts the reporters from filing stories about bomb blasts, target killings and political rallies of the nationalist parties. The local journalists say they do not know much about the command and structure of the newly formed organization. Nonetheless, they take the organization very seriously as it had recently claimed responsibility for a firing incident on a political rally in Khuzdar which killed two Baloch students and then a bomb blast at a Balochi cultural program inside Government Degree College Khuzdar that killed two more students.
Once the threats were reported in the media, Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) and International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) officially expressed their concern over the situation facing the journalists in Khuzdar. On their part, the pressmen in the district say that they deem it their professional responsibility to report every event that takes place in their district regardless of the fact who masterminds these events. It is unethical to dictate journalists what to report and what not.
The fourth story is that of Malik Arif, a senior television journalist, who lost his life in Friday’s suicide bomb blast at Quetta’s Civil Hospital while performing his professional duty. He was covering an impending protest by the sympathizers of a prominent Shia bank manager at the hospital when a suicide bomber struck. Malik died on the spot while five more television journalists sustained severe injuries in the attack. Late Malik Arif undoubtedly spent a secularly gallant journalistic stint expanding fore more than thirty years. His was indeed a hero’s martyrdom.
The description given above shows the troika of threats the journalist in Balochistan face. Living between the proverbial devil and the deep blue sea, media men in Balochistan are currently confronted with threats from the government, predominantly its rogue force called the Frontier Corps (FC), the underground armed groups and the sectarian organizations. Fear, insecurity and uncertainty shroud Balochistan’s journalistic scene at the moment. Reporters find themselves trapped in a situation where almost every party in the conflict wants to dictate them and expect overt backing of their policies in the media by the journalists.
Balochistan government’s response to the tragic murder of Malik Arif in the suicide bomb blast was disgusting. The big guns in the provincial capital simply exploited his killing as a golden opportunity to make headlines with their statements of condemnation in the local newspapers. Out of 50 ministers in the provincial cabinet, no one turned up to attend the funeral of the slain journalist which indicated the provincial government’s lack of interest in fighting terrorism or admiring the media’s courageous role in bringing the truth to the masses. The journalists’ community in Quetta has been outraged over the little amount the chief minister has announced as compensation for the dead journalist and the injured reporters.
Criticizing the government perhaps will not help at this occasion, nor is it the biggest issue at the moment. There is a need for integration among all media organizations and groups striving for the rights of the journalists to cope up with the emerging challenges the journalists are facing in the wake of the war-like situation that has engulfed the whole country in its grip.
Media organizations, mainly the news channels, must arrange safety training programs for the journalists in order to acquaint them with techniques to grapple with emergencies. Similarly, groups striving for the rights of the journalists should press the owners of the media houses to give full insurance to their employees so that their families do not suffer too much in case of a journalist’s untimely death or injury.
In the current unchanged circumstances, the days ahead seem to entail more hardships for the pressmen of Balochistan and less relief from the other side(s).