Sunday, March 9, 2014

A very brave, wise man speaks his mind

Kamal Siddiqui, editor The Express Tribune. A proud son of Pakistan.

Over the past six months, our media group has been attacked thrice. In the first instance, two employees were injured. In the most recent attack, which took place on a DSNG van of Express News in January, three staffers were shot dead. The TTP took responsibility for the last attack. We still have no clue about the other two.
While it is difficult to work under such circumstances, it is not impossible. But as an editor, one has to be cautious about what appears in print or online, more so for the safety of our staff.
While we have a duty to inform our readers, we also have a duty to our colleagues to not put them in unnecessary danger. Being part of the Coalition for Ethical Journalism, I have repeated time and again to colleagues that no news story is worth the death of a journalist. Stories cannot be killed. But people can.
After the attacks, we looked at our policy on the comment and opinion pieces. On some occasions, we felt contributors went overboard. We did not stop reporting on militant outfits. We did not censor incidents. We are in the business of journalism, we know what our readers want. For some reason, many  have accused us of cowing down. I ask these armchair analysts to come and spend a day in the field, like my staff do, and then tell us what to do. 
Working in the media in Pakistan is a fine balancing act these days. We are one of the world’s most dangerous countries for journalists. The public’s expectations have to be balanced with those of different players, some of whom are extremely sensitive on how we portray them.

We have worked hard to report on the real Pakistan. As an editor, I am of the firm belief that Pakistan’s main issues are not what the prime minister or president said that day but health, education, population, poverty and yes, polio. We have consistently written about the plight of religious minorities, marginalised communities, crimes against women and on subjects as varied as human rights and poor governance.
I concede that the space for our media is receding. But Pakistan still has one of the most vibrant media in the Muslim world. It is an irony that under the dictatorship under Gen Zia-ul Haq, journalists were routinely threatened and in some instances incarcerated by authorities. Now that we are comparatively freer, we are still under threat and adhere to self censorship as the state has stepped aside and non-state players are threatening us.
It is somewhat misleading to assume that only the ‘liberal’ media in Pakistan is under threat. All media houses are affected. What disappoints me today is that the state has in some ways abdicated its role of protecting the media. And if that is not enough, some media houses are playing petty. Instead of rallying behind us when we were attacked, the largest media house in Pakistan and its allies instead chose not to run the story. That for me is the bigger tragedy.


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