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UK should help Pakistan tackle media crisis

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By Bob Dietz/CPJ Asia Program Coordinator

Amid political
tumult
in Islamabad, Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and a team
of six ministers are in London for far-ranging meetings today through May 13. The
Pakistan-U.K. Enhanced Strategic Dialogue will review education, health, defense,
security, and cultural cooperation. CPJ has written a letter
to Prime Minister David Cameron to urge that press freedom conditions be raised
as well.

As we pointed out, Pakistan has been the world's deadliest country for
journalists for two consecutive years. That record reflects fatalities from
both dangerous assignments and targeted murders.

In only one of the 20 journalist murder cases since January
2002 have any of the perpetrators been brought to justice. The partial
exception is that of the American reporter for The Wall Street Journal, Daniel Pearl, in which
some of the people involved in his abduction and beheading were eventually brought
to trial. This abysmal record makes Pakistan one of the worst countries in the
world in combating deadly anti-press violence, according to CPJ's 2012 Impunity
Index
.

Twelve others have been killed since 2002 while covering dangerous
assignments. They lacked the protective gear and safety training that are standard
in many places in the world. Given those hard realities, here are some suggested
issues that could get a jump-start at the London sessions. They come from
discussions I've had with Pakistani journalists over the last few years:

In the context of defense and security cooperation, Britain could
offer Pakistan assistance in reversing impunity in the killings of journalists.
These murders have been attributed to government officials, criminal gangs,
wealthy business owners, and militant groups. Assistance to local police
investigators working on these unsolved cases--coupled with a commitment to increase
the forensic capabilities of local and national police--would go far in
protecting journalists. Increased law enforcement capacity is also in the
interest of the broader public.

As for those journalists covering dangerous assignments, Britain
could offer two forms of assistance that would have immediate impact:

  • Getting helmets, body armor, and other protective gear into the hands of at-risk journalists would be an immediate and cost-effective way of protecting lives. In the past, there have been problems getting this gear through Pakistani customs, an issue that could be resolved by the talks in London.
  • By helping bear the cost of security training to individual journalists--and preparing Pakistani trainers to pass on that knowledge to the larger press corps--British aid could go far in saving lives. Journalist organizations and media companies have taken steps to improve training, but more assistance is needed.

And here is one other proposal: In cooperation with international
aid donors and partnering with a Pakistani academic institution of appropriate
stature, Britain could help launch a graduate school of journalism in Pakistan.
Many newsroom managers say they are hiring journalism students who are eager
but not fully prepared. The problem is partly caused by the explosion of demand;
Pakistani media has been going through a protracted period of growth for quite
a while. But many of Pakistan's media and communications schools don't seem to
have the budgets or the programs, in English, Urdu, or Pashto, to meet the
industry's demand for newsroom-ready reporters. And if that graduate school of
journalism should also host a journalists' safety training program, who would
find fault with that?

Bob Dietz, coordinator of CPJ's Asia Program, has reported across the continent for news outlets such as CNN and Asiaweek. He has led numerous CPJ missions, including ones to Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Philippines, and Sri Lanka.

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