Progress on journalists’ safety in Pakistan

Under the auspices of the UN Action Plan on the Safety of journalists and the Issue of Impunity, the Pakistan Coalition of Media on Safety (PCOMS) was launched at a conference in Islamabad last week. The initiative follows recommendations of the Islamabad Declaration adopted the city, at a conference convened by UNESCO in November last year.

The PCOMS is an alliance of media stakeholders in the country working for a unified agenda of safety for journalists, media workers and media establishments. Its launch was the culmination of a conference on 6-7 March, hosted by Intermedia Pakistan with support of International Media Support (IMS), Open Society Foundations (OSF) and UNESCO, and attended by many local stakeholders, including members of parliament.

Executive Director of Intermedia Pakistan, Adnan Rehmat said: “Democracy is not safe when journalists are unsafe”. Intermedia figures record that 44 Pakistani journalists, mainly part-time stringers and freelancers, have been killed in the last five years (2009- Jan 2013), without any convictions of the perpetrators.

Included in the coalition are representatives of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists and the Radio Broadcasters Association, as well as media owners and editors groups plus NGOs.

“This important initiative shows how the UN Plan of Action has the power to catalyse significant new steps to secure the safety of journalists,” said Guy Berger, director of the division for Freedom of Expression and Media Development at UNESCO headquarters in Paris. The event was also addressed by UNESCO’s Director in Pakistan, Kozue Kay Nagata, who stressed the importance of the safety of journalists as a precondition to coverage that could contribute to better education and development in Pakistan.

UN Resident Co-ordinator for Pakistan Timo Pakkala expressed his support for the conference, as did Kazuo Tase of the UN Information Centre in Islamabad and Francesco d'Ovidio, Country Director of the International Labour Organisation and Chair of Interagency Task Force on Human Rights of the UN Country Team in Pakistan. Axel Plathe, director for UNESCO in Nepal, shared experiences in that country about implementing the UN Plan.

The UN Plan was devised in 2011 and elaborated in an Implementation Strategy in November 2012 which provides guidelines for national level implementation.

The conference also established the International Friends of Media Alliance on Safety, including international media development and support organizations interested in coordinating their efforts on media safety in Pakistan.

This Alliance includes Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Media Legal Defence Initiative (MLDI), Article IX, International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), Freedom House (FH), International News Safety Institute (INSI), Reporters Without Borders (RSF), International Media Support (IMS), UNESCO, International Press Institute (IPI), Internews Network, International Federation of Freedom of Expression (IFEX), Amnesty International (AI), World Association of Newspapers (WAN-IFRA), Fojo Institute, Press Emblem Campaign (PEC).

A working group of the PCOMS will now work on a “National Charter on Media Safety” that draws from the Islamabad Declaration and other workplans to aggregate action priorities, as well as listing collaborative and individual actions, that can implement the UN Plan in Pakistan. In turn, the Charter will be followed by a more detailed “Roadmap of Safety and Security”.