Improving professional capacities to report safely in hostile environments

The year 2014 was a tough year for journalists in Pakistan as more than 12 were killed in different and violent attacks, while others received threat calls and intimidation letters, according to the Rural Media Network of Pakistan (RMNP). Journalists also complain that religious extremists force them to cover their speeches and pressure them to publish their texts word by word.

To help respond to this alarming situation, UNESCO’s International Programme for the Developmnet of Communication (IPDC) supported the project "Safety of Journalists Working in Hostile Environments in Rural Pakistan", aimed at training journalists in safety-related issues.

Six training programmes were organized in three districts of South Punjab (MuzzaffarGarh, Bahawalpur and RahimYarKhan), which is in the grip of religious extremism and sectarian violence. A total of 90 journalists were registered for six training workshops but due to pressing demand 125 journalists were finally accepted, including 38 women.

The participation of women in the project was noteworthy, taking into account local circumstances. “We hail the decision to include 38 female contributors in the Samasatta and MusafirKhana training workshops”, said RMNP Coordinator Ms NajmaunNisa Bukhari.

In the rural areas of Pakistan, where 70 % of the population lives, only a few journalists are female. In Bahawalpur region, home to 12.5 million of inhabitants, there is not a single female journalist. And men cannot report about women's points of view as they cannot approach and talk with women freely.”

She concluded: “The almost none-existence of women journalists means that the media do not cover a large segment of society. Women’s perspective is totally missing in the news coverage. There is an urgent need to expose human rights violations against women in local and national media.

Topics covered during the training programme included how to cover violent mobs; dealing with pressures, threats and intimidation from different sources; managing contacts and relations with information sources; how to protect facts and maintain balance in a story; and how to cover a bomb blast.

Issues like covering warlords’ atrocities, gang rapes and honor killings were also included in different workshops. Parallel practical exercises were conducted to improve writing skills.

For the purposes of the training, RMNP upgraded a training manual on safety issues in Urdu. All six events were conducted by Karachi- and Lahore-based trainers.

The training programme ended with the establishment of a safety mechanism for journalism practitioners in three difficult areas of South Punjab, where no media house is actually present, as well as the setting up of six local press freedom monitoring committees. The project participants also urged the relevant authorities to make the protection of journalists a national priority.

The biggest challenge in Pakistan, apart from the direct threat to the life of journalists, is a culture of impunity. Only the killers of two journalists out of 116 cases have been arrested in the last decade. This promotes impunity and allows anyone to threaten and target journalists because they know they can get away with murder”, said RMNP President Mr. Ehsan Ahmed Khan Sehar.