Balochistan: Journalists Caught in the “Valley of Death”

//CGCS Media Wire examines the state of free and independent media in Pakistani region of Balochistan. Arzak Khan provides an inside look at the tension between state and non-state actors and the journalists caught in the crossfire.  Edited by Media Wire Fellow Corey Abramson.

Pakistan’s Balochistan province was once known throughout the world for its geographical beauty, art work, spectacular fruit and unmatched hospitality. Now, however, it is referred to as the “valley of death” by the fearful Pakistanis living in the area. The region has been on the receiving end of the war on terror, growing sectarian violence and a decade of insurgency fueled by the ongoing conflict between Baloch nationalists and the Government of Pakistan – making it one of the most dangerous places on earth for journalists and other media personnel.

For the second year in row, Reporters without Borders has named Pakistan the most dangerous country in the world for journalists. Stuck with deteriorating human rights, those in the profession find themselves under perpetual assault in the south western province. According to a recent reportMedia personnel in Balochistan are under constant threat from pro-Taliban Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), Pakistani security forces, Baloch separatists groups and state-sponsored anti-separatist militant outfits”. These groups cite providing media coverage of their activities as justification for assaulting, and at times threatening the lives of Baloch reporters.

Providing useful and beneficial coverage has proven to be increasingly dangerous over the last few years as both state and non-state actors try to use the media as a strategic weapon for spreading misinformation and propaganda. As a result, legitimate Pakistani press has been caught in the crossfire, seeing a number of abducted, tortured or killed journalists. The Balochistan Union of Journalists, along with various press freedom organizations, has condemned threats and attempts by feuding Pakistani factions to influence coverage of their activities as “extremely undemocratic, non-political and immoral”.

In a recent workshop organized by the Centre for Research and Security Studies (CRSS) in Islamabad, many participants felt that “media and civil society could not operate freely in [Balochistan] due to security reasons and harassment by the militant organizations. Coverage and role of media in highlighting the conflict is limited due to external pressures and fear of violent repercussion”.

The debate of lack of media coverage to soaring national issue such as the Balochistan conflict has been going on for a while now where political parties, human rights organizations and civil society has condemned the role played by the mainstream media in their failure to highlight the ongoing violent conflict. Some believe that due to the lack of media coverage the issue has further worsened and many Pakistanis living in other parts of the country have very limited idea on the violent state of affairs in the region. If it is not in the mainstream media the issue hardly gets noticed these days such is the power of media to influence agendas and a broad range of policy initiatives in Pakistan.

Martin Luther King Jr. once said that “the day we see truth and do not speak is the day we begin to die.”

“Here in Balochistan, the issue has become far more complicated than just speaking the truth,” says Irfan, a senior reporter working for a leading news channel. “If we report the issue without imposing some kind of self-censorship, we run the risk of being targeted either the by government agencies or militant organizations.”

The state of free and independent media in the “valley of death” appears dismal, with the hope for things to improve looking just as bleak. The ongoing Baloch conflict, rising sectarian violence and targeted killing of media personnel has led many to migrate to other countries or stop reporting altogether. Still, however, some journalists remain and appear to be holding on to Dr. King’s words – speaking the truth even if facing the consequences means never speaking again.

//Arzak Khan is a communication expert who researches on the marketing of Human rights, New Media, and Social Movements in the South. One part of his research focuses on understanding the role played by Information Communication Technologies in Mediatization of society and other focuses on the development of ICT infrastructure, broadband strategies and regulation of the Internet.

Arzak blogs on http://telecologist.blogspot.com/ and can be found on twitter as well @ArzakKhan

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Dec ’11 Balochistan Media Under Stress (report via Intermedia)

11/18 Balochistan: Pakistan Foreign Minister Downplays Human Rights Violations (via BalochMedia.com)

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