International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), called Pakistan as the fifth most dangerous country for journalists to practice their profession. The tragic death of Sadaf Naeem has again exposed the precarious and fragile working environment, in which the journalists are working. The rat race of giving breaking news led Sadaf to become ‘breaking news herself’.
Sadaf wasn’t the first victim. In the past many journalists were succumbed to death while performing their duties. “Sadaf Naeem’s death has left many questions to be answered. Was it an accident or an incident? Was she pushed or did she slip from the container? And most importantly, why was she so eager to get on to the container? Was it desperation to get exclusive coverage of the march, or get another interview of Imran Khan, to justify her existence in her channel? These are all bitter and painful realities of security risks journalists are obliged to take in order to carry out their professional duties,” says Tasneem Ahmar, Executive Director, Uks Research Centre.
“Sadaf’s unfortunate but preventable death was caused by the intentional lack of interest among most media houses to prioritise safety of their workers. Like many of her colleagues in her media house and also other media houses, Sadaf had salary arrears she had not been paid. To get their salaries, workers are forced to go beyond the call of duty to keep themselves relevant so that they can get paid,” observes Adnan Rehmat, journalist and media analyst.
Despite the presence of various legal frameworks, journalists and media workers continue to face terrible conditions. The West Pakistan Industrial and Commercial Employment (Standing Orders) Ordinance 1968 and the Newspapers’ Employees (Condition of Service) Act, 1973 for print media workers guarantee many rights yet the situation is bleak. There are hardly few media houses which provide health insurance to their employees, while in field reporting where journalists’ lives are at risk, health and life insurance is extremely mandatory. The Journalists Protection Act, 2021 also makes it mandatory for all media houses to ensure life insurance of their employees. “I believe that denial of labour rights, including wages and safe working conditions, force media workers in Pakistan to take unnecessary and preventable risks on behalf of their employers. And yet not a single media employer registered an FIR or requested to become party to the case of any of the 53 journalists and media workers killed in Pakistan between 2012 and 2022, according to a new report by Freedom Network issued on November 2, 2022,” adds Adnan Rehmat.
Delayed or denial of salaries, non-issuance of appointment letters, non-provision of basic facilities and dismissals without notice, are some of the problems journalists are facing. “This is an irony that no media house in Pakistan provides training to the journalists, especially field journalists. Sadaf gave the first beeper to her channel in the morning on long march, but she was asked to interview Imran Khan once again. No FIR was registered as the family of Sadaf while terming it an accident, refused to file any case, though the case should be lodged against the channel as well as the owner and driver of the container,” elucidates Rana Azeem, Secretary General Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists.
“Internationally, journalists are asked to remain at a safe distance to avoid any untoward incident while covering sensitive/dangerous events, but in Pakistan, journalists and camera men don’t follow this practice. In the past, many journalists were wounded and killed as a result of a second blast which followed the first minor blast,” recalls G M Jamali, President PFUJ.
“Under the Workmen Compensation Act 1923 the grant compensation for on-duty deaths can be Rs 10 lakh but in exceptional cases the prescribed amount can be more than that,” informs Labour lawyer Syed Ishteyaq Bukhary.
Tasneem Ahmar finds the actual reason for Sadaf’s death shrouded in mystery. “Uks has always argued that safety and security can be particularly important for women journalists who face the double burden of being attacked both for being journalists and women. They also face family pressures to leave a profession so risky. Apart from the irreplaceable loss to her family, Sadaf’s untimely death has taken away a vibrant and ambitious journalist from the field. There might be fewer women’s voices that’ll be heard due to compromised safety,” she notes.
The role of journalists’ unions is pertinent in ensuring journalists’ safety. The general rules of guidance provided by the International Federation of Journalists should be instructed to the on-duty journalists, particularly the city reporters, crime reporters, war and defence reporters. “Journalists should be advised to stay away from big vehicles when reporting from a crowded area. They also have a responsibility to restrain themselves and protect themselves from such mishaps,” suggests Bukhary.
Tasneem says, for many years, her organisation Uks has been pushing media houses for proper safety and security measures and protocols for journalists irrespective of their gender.
“We focus more on women in the media as they are less privileged, underpaid and more often face harassment of all kinds if they try to raise their voice. And yet, after decades of concerted efforts and continued advocacy to deal with this unjust situation for women, I feel so depressed when incidents like Sadaf Naeem’s death occur,” laments Tasneem.
A high-level conference to mark the 10th anniversary of the United Nations - Plan of Action on Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity, was held in Vienna, 3 - 4 November 2022. The conference reviewed progress and challenges faced by various countries in the last 10 years in implementing the UN Plan of Action. “In Vienna, we discussed the progress and future of the National Protection Mechanism for the safety of journalism. The Freedom Network is advocating for the provision of justice via the National Protection Mechanism, but being a provincial subject, the responsibility of the 3 P’s (prevention, protection and prosecution) lies on the shoulders of the government and media institutions towards ending impunity and the fear around journalists,” states Iqbal Khattak, Executive Director of Freedom Network, who participated in the conference.
Adnan Rehmat calls for ending the culture of impunity. “The laws on safety passed by Sindh Assembly and the national parliament must be immediately operationalised. This will enable safety commissions to investigate the cases of violence or labour rights violations against journalists such as Sadaf Naeem and Arshad Sharif,” maintains Adnan Rehmat.
“Media houses must adhere to the international safety protocols and ensure that journalists, especially females, are provided safety gear, proper training on working under crisis situations as well as financial support,” stresses Rehmat.
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