According to the Human Rights Watch (https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2018/country-chapters/pakistan), minorities, transgender people, women and children are vulnerable to violence and the latter two mentioned in this grouping may even fall prey to sexual assault. Another major concern in Pakistan are ‘enforced disappearances’ and many of the missing people are either never recovered or wind up getting killed in mysterious circumstances.
These are all issues which are today brought to the attention of Pakistan’s masses by local journalists, but this wasn’t always the case. Before the liberation of the country’s private media in the early 2000s, stories related to atrocities committed against marginalized groups or individuals were largely brushed under the carpet, unless the individual had a significant social standing.
With information hard to come by, the local population was mostly unaware of social evils taking place and atrocities being committed even within their own locality. “We were mostly living in a fool’s paradise,” says Naiyer Husain, a retired senior Paksitani government official.
She recalls that in the1970s, 80s and 90s, all the stories forthcoming would be on the 9’o’clock news, which ran on state television, and was largely considered a propaganda machine to highlight government achievements. It focused far less on “bad news”. She says the only hope of impartial reporting was from privately-owned newspapers which would bring human rights violations to the fore.
“However, there were just one or two reliable sources of information so the proliferation was far less. The private media was smaller in size and its reach was mainly to educated homes in the larger cities,” the former government official outlines.
Then, almost overnight, the media was liberated in the country. Sensing the opportunity to carve a market for themselves, established media groups created previously unseen forms of mass communication such as privately-run television channels which would provide the latest news, on the hour, every hour.
“Nowadays, if a gross human rights violation takes place, the public is made instantly aware. A liberated media has given birth to activism over social issues and not just political standpoints The click of a button can bring you up to speed with the state of affairs, especially if there has been an atrocity or human rights violation of some kind,” says Naiyer.
Apart from violence, the media has played a vital role in highlighting how young girls are deprived of their constitutional right to an education or whether members of a minority community are being persecuted
The relatively liberated Paksitani media has provided greater access to information with a large chunk of the focus being on human rights and making citizens aware of the rights granted to them by the state.
However, unearthing this information is not without its risks. Although journalism and the reporting of human rights violations go hand in hand, the subjects of articles and the reporters themselves are not immune to ridicule, violence and even censorship.
Reporting in favour of the minority Ahmedi sect is often considered a dangerous assignment and those Pakistani journalists who have highlighted the plight of this group have often become the target of intimidation and threats from religious extremists.
Fahhd Husain, the city editor for one of Pakistan’s leading English dailies, recalls a time when a reporter working under him faced such threats for protecting a minority in the city of Lahore. “They put up graffiti of a threatening nature outside his house. He later got into a serious motorcycle accident and while some will say it is a matter of coincidence, I am not so sure.”
Changing topics, he talks about how the media has taken on its newfound role.“To say that the Pakistani media is entirely free of media censorship is incorrect,” says Fahhd He continues there are several stories which need to brought to the attention of the Pakistani readership or viewership. “The free media is still very young when compared to the age of the country. Therefore, it needs a little time to learn greater responsibility.”
He stresses that it is all well and good to report on social issues and human rights violations, but the manner in which the stories are presented need greater care. “If a television channel, for example, decides to add the soundtrack of a sad song to television news packages related to rape or the persecution of a minority, it takes away from the integrity of the report. It has to be less about showmanship and more about the actual content.”
He warns against sensationalism, saying media houses run the risk of trivializing a grave situation or gross human rights violation just for the sake of presenting a “louder or more colorful” report. The city editor believes that is the only way in which the reports of Pakistani journalists can be taken seriously in the rest of the world.
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