In the line of duty

When the news of an attack on the Express Media Group’s Karachi office was reported on social media and TV earlier this week, I was panic-stricken. I called up my friends working there to make sure everybody was alright. Three people were injured.

This was the second attack on the Express office in four months. It reminded us all of the fact that Pakistan is indeed one of the most dangerous countries for journalists in the world.

Attacks on journalists and media houses are not an unknown phenomenon in this country. Many Pakistani journalists have been killed over the years just for doing their job responsibly.

Several others have faced death threats, been kidnapped, tortured, harassed, etc. Despite threats from various quarters, the great courage and steadfastness being shown by some journalists in the conflict-ridden regions is commendable.

The role of those mainstream journalists/media houses who have taken great risks in exposing the wrongs in powerful institutions must also be lauded.
Pakistani journalists have fought hard for their freedom over the decades but the media is still not as free as it should ideally be.

The Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has issued direct threats against the media on several occasions, especially in recent months. These threats can certainly not be taken lightly given how the TTP has carried out deadly attacks against both civilians and the security forces over the years.

On top of that, reporting against powerful mafias, institutions like the military, influential politicians, judiciary, etc., do not come without a price.

After the murder of Saleem Shahzad in 2011, a friend was asked by his young son if he would be killed for doing his job just like Shahzad. He reassured him that nothing would happen to him but says the fear in his son’s eyes made him think if it was worth risking one’s life for a profession that is not even valued much in our part of the world.

While some sections in the media in Pakistan are rightly criticised for inciting violence, spreading intolerance, propagating extremist ideology, sympathising with the Taliban and peddling military propaganda, amongst other things, there are many honourable exceptions in the Pakistani media. As a journalist, you sometimes do not realise how groundbreaking your work may be and how it may put your life as well as that of your family in danger.

As a citizen and as a journalist, I salute the courage of those media houses and journalists who are doing their jobs honestly despite these threats.

The government must stand by the media and its freedom while the media fraternity itself should put aside its differences and stand with their colleagues.

Dawn newspaper’s editorial rightly suggested: “The only way to counter this open season on journalists is for the media to set aside internal differences, and put up a united stand to demand protection for its members and accountability of those who consider journalists fair game for murder.”

(Originally published in Mid-Day)


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