[Dehai-WN] Asharq-e.com: Dangerous Journalism: Covering the Taliban

[Dehai-WN] Asharq-e.com: Dangerous Journalism: Covering the Taliban

From: Berhane Habtemariam <Berhane.Habtemariam_at_gmx.de_at_dehai.org>
Date: Sun, 13 Nov 2011 23:42:04 +0100

Dangerous Journalism: Covering the Taliban


By Umer Farooq


Islamabad, Asharq Al-Awsat - In mid-2010, several newspapers in Pakistan
reported that the Taliban in North Waziristan had issued its "final warning"
to the Pakistani media, after elements of the fundamentalist Islamist
movement had been portrayed in a negative light. This story was widely
reported, with newspapers citing threatening e-mail messages from Muhammad
Umar, a "spokesman for the Taliban's media center".

The Taliban spokesman was angry at the way in which elements of the movement
were being described on private Pakistani television news channels. The open
e-mail, which was sent to a number of prominent Pakistani media figures,
asked "why is the media only conveying the [Pakistani] army's point of view?
Is this proof that the media is working in alliance with the government and
the army? Or is it being forced to hide the truth?" The Taliban is well
aware that the media war represents half the battle, and it has therefore
been seeking to strengthen its relations with both the print and broadcast

In the majority of cases, relations between the Taliban movement and the
media are not good, but often, and somewhat surprisingly, the Taliban
appears increasingly media savvy. It is well aware of the importance of
foreign media coverage of its activities, and is also making full use of the
internet. This is not to mention the Taliban's use of DVDs, which are
distributed freely to local and international audiences. Likewise, the
majority of journalists, local and foreign, are in constant contact with the
Taliban's spokesmen.

However, this relationship does not protect the media and journalists
working in tribal regions from the wrath of the Pakistani Taliban.
Journalists working in tribal areas are increasingly coming under pressure
from tribal militants. The main danger facing the Pakistani media in such
areas is being subject to attacks from tribal elements affiliated to Al
Qaeda and the Taliban, who are based in the tribal areas bordering Pakistan.

Nine journalists have been killed in Pakistan's tribal areas since 2005,
according to figures reported by Pakistan's Tribal Union for Journalists
[TUJ], who have warned that such tribes and tribal elements have little
tolerance for the media. This is the reason why 50 percent of reporters from
tribal areas have migrated and settled in Pakistani cities, particularly the
city of Peshawar.

Safdar Hayat, head of the Tribal Union for Journalists, said: "There are a
large number of tribal journalists now settled in Peshawar". Around 230
journalists are registered with the TUJ, with around 100 of these living in
Pakistan's cities.

In many cases, local warlords in tribal areas have banned the publication of
newspapers in their respective regions, following the negative press they
receive in local newspapers. A senior tribal journalist, speaking on the
condition of anonymity, said: "A common feature in tribal areas is that the
warlords terrorize tribal journalists and force them to withdraw their
articles on a regular basis".

Local journalists in tribal areas say that self-censorship is the only way
to avoid the wrath of the warlords. In most cases, reporters who are not
prepared to censor their work in this manner have left the tribal regions
for their own safety, and are now covering events from the relative security
of cities such as Peshawar.

However, what is remarkable is the inability of the government and security
agencies to protect journalists in the tribal areas. In many cases, the
government itself has advised journalists to move away from these areas for
the journalists own protection.

A senior journalist reporting from the tribal areas said: "In most cases,
when we ask the government to provide us with security, officials advise us
to move from the tribal areas to the safer cities".

In the last week of June, journalists from all over Pakistan gathered in
Islamabad and staged a demonstration outside of parliament. They demanded
that the government set up a judicial commission to investigate the death of
journalist Saleem Shahzaad [found dead on 31 May after disappearing in
Islamabad], and also demanded that the government work to improve the
security of journalists based in the country's tribal regions.

Despite this, the government has so far failed to acknowledge the precarious
situation faced by journalists in the tribal areas.

Five years ago, the chaotic situation in the tribal regions began to spill
over into nearby Pakistani cities. Journalists in Peshawar (a city located
near the tribal areas) began to feel the heat of conflict.

"I am facing genuine danger from militants and taking precautionary measures
to stave off these threats as much as possible," said senior journalist
Shamim Shahid, Bureau Chief of the Pakistan Today newspaper in Peshawar.

"The militants want to target me for my coverage of their armed operations,"
said Shamim at his office, where a vigilant guard examines every visitor.

Journalists have always found it difficult to pursue news in the tribal
belt, and the increased militancy has only increased the risks. Since
February 2005, five journalists have been killed there whilst dozens have
opted to migrate to safer places.

Militant suicide attacks and bombings have endangered reporters covering
events. Two tribal journalists were killed on 6 December, in a Taliban
attack on tribal elders in the Mohmand tribal district's headquarters of

Violence spilling over from the tribal areas has plagued journalists across
Pakistan, especially in Swat, where the Mullah Fazlullah-led Taliban wreaked
havoc between 2007 and 2009, before the federal government ordered a
"decisive" military operation in May 2009.

Ghulam Farooq, editor of the Swat-based Shamal newspaper in Mingora,
described the challenges that the Pakistani media has faced. "The militants
become angry when they are described as militants or terrorists," Farooq
said. "They want to be referred to as mujahedeen (holy warriors)."

However others believe that the situation has improved greatly after the
military confronted the Taliban. "There is no fear now," said Sherin Zada,
Bureau Chief of Express News TV. "During the chaos of the Taliban, it was
extremely difficult to work as an independent journalist".

Some journalists who attempted to cover the events in Pakistan's tribal
areas first hand were kidnapped by the Taliban. They were only released
after a huge sum was paid as a ransom.

Asad Qureshi, a British citizen of Pakistani origin, went missing on 26
March 2010, on his way to North Waziristan. The documentary filmmaker was
planning to interview Taliban leaders. He was travelling with two former
officials from Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence [ISI] agency, both of
whom were later killed by the Taliban. A video soon emerged of Qureshi being
held captive by the Taliban, along with an accompanying e-mail which was
published by a Pakistani newspaper. The e-mail contained a list of Taliban
leaders to be released, and it warned that the hostages would be killed if
their demands were not met. The Taliban also demanded $10 million for the
release of Qureshi.

The most damming aspect of this whole situation is the complete disregard
shown by the Pakistani government towards the situation in the tribal
regions, and the threats journalists working there face from tribal
militants. Media organizations in Pakistan have repeatedly asked the
government to provide security for journalists working in tribal areas, but
their demands appear to be falling on deaf ears.

Seven Pakistani journalists were killed whilst performing their professional
duties in the first six months of 2011. Most of them were killed by armed
ethnic groups involved in various militant operations, whist a few have died
in explosions.

Constitutional protection and legal safeguards to counter the dangerous
climate in the tribal regions are almost non-existent in Pakistan, a country
ranked among the worst for journalists to work in. According to figures
provided by local journalist's organizations, more than 14 Pakistani
journalists were killed while performing their duties in the year 2010.


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Received on Sun Nov 13 2011 - 17:42:25 EST
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