Challenges of the Pakistani News Media

We had a great turnout in today’s event (Challenges of Independent News Media in Pakistan) organized by the Center for International Media Assistance (CIMA) at the National Endowment for Democracy. I was on the panel along with the author of the report Sherry RicchiardiAwais Saleem, Washington DC correspondent of Pakistani Dunya TV  and Bob Dietz of the Committee to Protect Journalists.  It was a diverse and powerful audience that came from government departments, organizations that impart training among journalists and offer opportunities to Pakistani journalists to visit the United States and also groups that strive to protect press freedom.

The Pakistani media regularly comes under discussion for several reasons, mostly for its challenges and weaknesses. What I liked about today’s discussion was the acknowledgement of the fact physical safety is the top most concern of journalists across Pakistan. A culture of impunity offered by the government to those who attack journalists has emboldened several other groups to assault the media.

I’d like to share some key points of our discussion.

  • Coverage of politics causes the highest number of deaths among journalists in Pakistan. No other topic is as sensitive as politics (Bob Dietz)
  • Most news comes from rural Pakistan because remote regions happen to be the center of newsworthy activities such as Taliban or Baloch nationalist insurgency.
  • A vast majority of the journalists in rural areas are not formally appointed by news organizations. They are neither trained nor paid for their services.
  • Corruption is rampant in Pakistani media. Journalists receive plots, foreign trips from the government as bribe while in rural areas reporters make black money from the people they interview or cover for their newspapers.
  • Media owners and publishers have upstaged the office of editor. They have to be made a part of the dialogue. Without including the media owners, the issues of wages, security and compensation posthumously to slain journalists’ families is unlikely.
  • The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists is a wonderful example of journalists’ unity in Pakistan, according to Bob. I said there were various layers of journalist unions and types of reactions one would see in case of attack on journalists. (District, provincial, national, national-international [Pakistani journalists who work in Islamabad or other major cities for foreign media outlets].
  • Many journalists from Balochistan and Federally Tribal Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) are currently internally displaced which means they have left the cities where they used to work to safer locations like Karachi or Islamabad. Some, including this writer, have attained political asylum overseas and the rest have quit journalism as a profession.
  • Despite all drawbacks, the Pakistani media is doing much better than the past.
  • Women have still not been welcomed or encouraged to become full-time journalists. They are still ghettoized. There is a need to offer more opportunities to female journalists. Religious, cultural and logistical issues prevent women for adopting journalism as a full-time profession.
  • Pakistan news media has still not fully felt the impact of social media. The use of social media for news gathering or dissemination  purpose is still largely an urban trend. Most Pakistanis have cell phones.

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