The two-day of media conference entitled “Pakistan Media: Present and Future” arranged by Individualland(IL) in collaboration with Friedrich-Naumann-Stiftung für die Freiheit (FNF), drew a large number of journalists from all parts of the country including a strong representation from a frontline province in the war against terrorism, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and from southwest province of Balochistan, one of the high rates in the world for journalists killings.
Individualland is hosting this conference after a long series of workshops across the country to sensitize the media on citizen centric responsible journalism issues.
The conference revolved around the five major themes, including ‘Citizens’ Media Space Vs Commercial Space’, ‘Dissecting the Jihadi/Militant Media’, ‘Gender and Media’, ‘Challenges for Working Journalists’ and ‘Tools for Free, Independent and Responsible Media (FIRM).
Ms. Gulmina Bilal Ahmed, Director of IL, opened the morning session with some striking statistics. “Since 1992, as many as 41 journalists have laid down their lives in the line of duty. The media in Pakistan today is on the forefront of conflict without much safeguards,” she said.
Terming media an integral part and pre-condition for strong and stable democracy in a society, German ambassador Dr Michael Koch said that Germany actively supported the independent media in Pakistan.
The ambassador said that practicing journalism in Pakistan was a serious and risky business… hats off to its practitioners who are braving the conditions to further the cause of vibrant media & Pakistani media enjoy enough independence and is a source of hope for the long-term democracy in the country.
Olaf Kellerhoff, FNF Resident Director said that FNF in partnership with Individualland started the concept of Free, Independent, Responsible Media (FIRM) and the foundation would like to continue promoting the professional and independent media.
In the second session of the first day, the conference heard the views on citizen`s media space versus commercial space.
The participants were involved in the discussion on the basics like what media stands for while exploring contemporary themes like urban base and rural base.
Mazhar Arif from the Society of Alternative Media and Research that the owners of media organizations and journalists of the country should consider journalism as public service and they must give more space to citizens and to the issues concerning them.
Aniq Zafar from Communication Research Strategies said as the public empowerment and their participation is necessary for democracy similarly public participation and representation is necessary for free media. He said that media should avoid sensitization and care for the public interest.
During the last session of the first day, the panelists picked the theme, `Dissecting the Jihadi Media.`
The session was presided over by Samina Ahmed, Director International Crises Group. The fellow panelists were Amir Rana from Pakistan Institute of Peace Studies and Syed Irfan Ashraf from journalism department of Peshawar University.
Dr Ahmed said: “One would have to define what constitutes Jihadi media or one should not equate Jihadi media with non-violent sectarian media.”
On the second day, in the session focused on the theme of gender and the Media. Chief of party of Gender Equity Program Simi Kamal said that the space for the women in society is rapidly shrinking and the extremist media was bent upon snatching that space. She said with the passage of every passing day the list of the professions for the working women in Pakistan is decreasing day by day. Sahar Gul, researcher and academic shared her research & presented the displays of 11 TV network who were propagating against the freedom of the women. She underscored the need to undenderstand Quran in its true
Senior journalist from Balochistan and KP presented the alarming number of journalists killed during the last few years and regretted that fingers were being pointed at security agencies for their alleged involvement in harassing of journalists. In the session on challenges faced by the working journalists produced lively debate on the need to protect the journalists especially those working in the conflict zones like KPK and Balochistan. Shahzada Zulfiqar, a senior journalist from Balochistan said that 19 journalists from Balochistan have been killed in the last three years. He said 12 of them were allegedly killed by the agencies of the state.
President Peshawar Press Club Saiful Islam saifi said that 23 journalists have been killed by the adversaries ever since the war on terror started and 18 incidents of violence were reported against journalists in the province.
Speaking on the session, senior journalist and columnist Ghazi Salahuddin emphasised on the need to change media’s professional mindset, he lamented while Pakistan was passing through an intellectual and ideological conflict & we have no intellectual resources.
Senior journalist Wajahat Masood said that the correct perception of journalism has to be an innate compulsion for every journalist. A free, independent and responsible journalist must be intolerant of discrimination and must stand with unpopular causes.
“The media cannot be free without democracy,” said Masood.
In the Concluding Session of the national conference US Embassy Public Affairs Counsellor Mitchell Moss recommended that Pakistani journalists also use the Freedom of Information (FOI) law to acquire information from different institutions to ascertain facts in their stories.
The US public affairs counsellor shared the story of two Washington Post reporters who ran a series titled Secret America, which carried stories on multiple issues and carried information from different government institutions, including the military.
“This information was acquired using the Access to Information Act applied and practiced in America, and a number of journalists are now using it to gain access to information they need to investigate a particular story,” said Moss.
Moss said Pakistan and the US have a long-standing friendship based on people to people bonds. “Sometimes friends agree, sometimes they don’t, but fundamentally they like each other.” He said he had tremendous respect for Pakistani journalists because they are working in one of the world’s most dangerous environments.
The journalist present in the house were unanimous that the journalists badly need training and the expertise to be able to report from the conflict areas.
The journalists stressed upon the owners to invest in the training and protection of the journalists & there should be a separation between ownership and editorship plus media outlets should review their policy.
Individualland Pakistan is actively engaged with the Pakistani media. This engagement involves active training of print, radio and electronic media personnel on civic issues as well as using media as anally for change.Presently, Individualland Pakistan is involved in a national initiative to create public awareness of freedom of information through the use of radio, which provides an efficient way of reaching out to maximum number of people.Individualland Pakistan also uses online media tools for it’s advocacy and consulting work.