One more journalist was killed in Balochistan Province at month’s end, this time in a small town in Jafferabad District, and once again we’re left to question what can be done about this tragic trend.
Zafarullah Jattak, a reporter for newspaper based in Quetta called the Daily Intikhab, was sleeping at home when four armed assailants barged in and shot him dead, police officials said. Juttak was 35 and, according to news reports, he got married about a month ago.
Forty three journalists have been killed during the past decade in Balochistan. It’s still too early in the investigation of Jattak’s death to draw conclusions, but in most cases the killers are never apprehended even when the motive is clear and there is ample proof of who is behind the killing. Often there is counter argument that exonerates the perpetrators and, in a way, blames the journalists for doing what they do — their job.
I remember interviewing the bureau chief of Online news agency, Irshad Mastoi, for a long-form report on Quetta for Dawn.com in June 2013. Unlike other journalists I interviewed, he was the only one who spoke candidly about the “open threats” to journalists in Balochistan.
I remember interviewing the bureau chief of Online news agency, Irshad Mastoi, for a long-form report on Quetta for Dawn.com in June 2013. Unlike other journalists I interviewed, he was the only one who spoke candidly about the “open threats” to journalists in Balochistan. He explained that the threat can come from anyone who thinks a reporter is a traitor for not helping their cause. He said the threats come either from the separatists, who think their cause is not justified by the reporters in their reports, or from security officials, who think the reporters are “too soft” on those opposing the writ of the state. In this quagmire, the messenger is often shot dead for not doing his or her job “right.”
As a result, many reporters refuse to take bylines on their stories, or self-censor. In most cases, the latter takes place. The journalist I spoke with also criticized newspaper sub-editors for at times not understanding the nature of the conflict and choosing headlines that might be misconstrued by people posing a threat to the reporters.
For instance, Abdus Salam, also known as Dr. Chishti Mujahid, used to write a weekly column from Quetta in Jang newspaper’s widely read Urdu language magazine, Akhbar e Jehan. In one of his columns, written after the death of Baloch separatist leader Mir Balaach Marri in 2008, the headline read, “Balaach ko apni zameen bhi nahi mili,” [Balaach couldn’t get his own land]. The separatist group, Balochistan Liberation Army, accepted responsibility for the killing.
But the threat is not restricted to Balochistan. A reporter working for an international news organization in Karachi is currently “on leave” from work as his last story on a political party created quite a stir. As I discussed the situation with one of my other colleagues, currently based in New York, he said the reporter has to do that quite often to protect himself and his family. “He might choose to come back or not at all; I can’t say for sure at the moment,” he added.
During a short trip to Swat in February this year, a local reporter said to me that many journalists have accepted their fate, which is an unfortunate way of dealing with the situation. “They [reporters] can’t go back to their editors, as they themselves are under threat, and police is anyways not equipped enough to deal with ‘them’…”
Going back to basics then becomes one of the armors with which journalists can protect themselves in any given situation. Fact checking is on top of that list, senior journalist Mazhar Abbas had said to me during an interview for The News, soon after Geo news reporter, Wali Khan Babar, was killed in Karachi.
But what to do when facts at hand demand a deeper investigation into a story? Or when all the facts point towards a particular person/institution/organisation? Do we name them or not? And how to write a report that does not offend anyone, when in principle, that’s what we are basically wired to do? Should journalists get combat training or have armed guards around to protect themselves? We are not soldiers, so who is responsible for the continuing death toll, whether in Pakistan or elsewhere?
The killing of journalists is not a Pakistani problem; it threatens news organizations all over the world. So while I don’t have answers to these questions, I think they apply to every newsroom. And somehow, I don’t feel we’ll have proper answers for these queries anytime soon.