Journalism is one of the riskiest professions to choose in this anarchic and increasingly insecure world. Since journalists consider themselves responsible for keeping people alive to political, religious and security-related affairs, they are bound to face the wrath of certain powerful state and non-state quarters. Sometimes, if they unearth the truth behind sensitive political and security matters, they are mercilessly tortured to death.
According to the 2016 Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) report, at least 48 journalists have been killed on account of their work and another 26 killed while reporting between January 01 and December 15, 2016. Last year, 101 journalists were brazenly targeted in the line of their duties. This number has decreased to 74 this year because a large number of reporters have left conflict zones in Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq and sub-Saharan Africa.
Though advancement in information technology has greatly facilitated the task of journalists, they are still required to report from areas that are ravaged by civil wars, terrorism, militancy and insurgency. In these unsafe areas, many journalists are either bombed or tortured to death while gathering firsthand information about gross human rights violation by authoritarian regimes, terrorist outfits and some ‘global powers.’
This is the reason war-torn Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq have been declared most dangerous countries for journalists this year. More than half the journalists killed in these countries this year died in combat or crossfire, making war coverage the deadliest assignment. Around 14 journalists were killed in Syria in 2016 and another 14 in 2015 – in fact at least 107 journalists have been killed there since the conflict began in 2011. Besides Syria, the deadliest countries for journalists in 2016 have been Iraq (six deaths),Yemen (six deaths), Afghanistan (four deaths), Somalia (three deaths) and Libya (three deaths).
Authoritarian, despotic and corrupt governments do not spare those journalists who highlight the wrongdoings and gross human rights violation of their governments. According to the CPJ report, at least 259 journalists have been jailed around the world this year. In states such as Russia and China, journalists cannot criticise the incorrect policies of governments – if they transgress the prescribed limits set by the government, they are condemned to lifelong sentences and are harshly tortured in prisons.
Democratic dispensations in South Asia also resort to blatant violence against those who dare to prepare detailed reports about corrupt, nepotistic and unconstitutional acts of ruling parties. A large number of honest and upright professionals in the field are still performing their duties under constant threats and are unprepared to budge from their stance of exposing the undemocratic activities of their ‘representative governments’.
In weak and corruption-ridden democratic setups, security establishments play an overriding role in political affairs. By capitalising on the torpidity of civilian governments, they embroil themselves in the socio-economic and political matters of the state. Powerful law-enforcement agencies (LEAs) in these countries employ oppressive and repressive policies to quell political dissidents.
The emergence of terrorism and militancy has further complicated the work of journalists. A significant number of journalists have been engaged in covering deadly incidents of terrorism, militancy and sectarianism since the fateful 9/11 attack. Since then, in the discharge of their duties, a large number of them have lost their lives due to terrorist attacks – bomb blasts, indiscriminate firings and targeted killings.
Groups such as Al-Qaeda, Isis, the Taliban, and Al-Shabab are responsible for murders of journalists in Syria, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia, Turkey, Yemen, France and Bangladesh. Moreover, terrorists also resort to abducting and killing those analysts and reporters who write against terrorism.
Journalists in Pakistan are also facing multidimensional problems in the line of duty. According to the CPJ report, 33 journalists have been murdered in the country since 1992. They have little or no access to reporting from conflict areas. They are working under the constant watch of powerful security quarters and the threat of outlawed terrorist groups and mafias.
The world community should come forward to ensure foolproof security of journalists reporting from conflict zones. More importantly, media houses should avoid forcibly sending reporters to highly insecure areas which may cost their lives. In Pakistan, the government ought to facilitate the work of the journalist community and provide them with security so they can perform their duties without fear.
The writer edits The Asia Watch.