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Sunday July 3, 2011
By AMY CHEWsunday@thestar.com.my
Journalists working in certain countries face kidnapping,
torture and death in their quest to shine a light
on strife, injustice, corruption, and terrorism.
SYED Saleem Shahzad lived in Pakistan, a
country labelled as the most dangerous
in the world for journalists in 2010.
As a reporter, his investigative work on
Pakistan’s Islamic militants and the country’s
intelligence agents further increased the risks
of doing his job in a country battling Islamic
insurgents, political instability and economic
On May 29 this year, he went missing
while driving from his home to a TV station in
Islamabad, two days after his article alleging
al-Qaeda infiltration of the Pakistani navy was
Saleem’s body was found the next day in
a canal at Mandi Bahauddin in Punjab, some
200km from Islamabad.
“He was a very brave journalist who did
not hesitate in venturing out to dangeorus
territories to get his stories, and he was one of
Pakistan’s best investigative journalists,” says
Mehmal Sarfraz, Op-Ed editor of the Daily
Times, a popular Pakistani English daily.
Pakistani journalists face threats at every
turn from intelligence agencies, pressure
groups, religious extremists, militants, terror
networks, corrupt officials, and the drugs
mafia. It is a potent cocktail of religion, arms
“If we write something that displeases the
religious right, there will be threat from the
religious fundamentalists. If we expose the
militants, they will harass you,” says Mehmal.
“If we criticise the military, we will have to
face the repercussions. If someone exposes
land mafia, drugs mafia, betting mafia or
other such rackets, we don’t know what the
consequences will be,” adds Mehmal.
Since the beginning of this year, eight
journalists have been killed in Pakistan, three
in suicide bomb attacks, five in mysterious
circumstances including kidnapping, and
targeted killing, according to the Pakistan
Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ).
Another 10 have been tortured and abducted,
mostly in the province of Baluchistan,
since January 2011.
“Journalists in Baluchistan, Pakistan’s largest
province, are the most harassed group and
many journalists have died there, allegedly at
the hands of our intelligence agencies,” says
In Karachi, journalists face threats from
political parties and sometimes get in the
line of fire when ethnic clashes erupt in the
“Targeted killings are not unheard of and
the city has seen a wave of ethnic and political
clashes in recent months,” says Mehmal.
On top of the dangers, many journalists,
especially in the print media, work without
basic facilities, job security, or life insurance.
They are also underpaid and overworked.
In most of the conflict areas, the majority
of the journalists are not given a salary nor
are they provided with cameras and other
“The question of ‘decent wage’ does not
exist here in the Pakistani media industry,”
says Muhammed Amin Yousuf, secretarygeneral
of the PFUJ.
While the death of a reporter, photographer,
cameraman and other media personnel
may make headlines, it seldom translates into
justice for the victims and their families.
Few perpetrators have ever been caught
The impunity has only served to embolden
governments, militants, the mafia and local
warlords in silencing journalists.
“Terrorists and government forces have no
regard for journalists and no one is brought
to justice for the murder of a journalist,
thereby fuelling more of the same,”
Pinder, director of
“Where there is
impunity, there is
no problem killing a
journalist,” he says.
its attendant freedom
do not guarantee the
safety of journalists.
The Philippines, a
since People’s Power
overthrew the Marcos
dictatorship in 1986,
has a terrible record.
In November 2009,
32 journalists were among those massacred
in the southern province of Maguindanao by
100 armed men as they travelled to watch the
filing of papers for a candidate to stand elections
against a rival clan named Ampatuan.
“The Ampatuan Massacre has been referred
to by various international media organisations
as the worst single incident of violence
against journalists recorded in the world with
32 journalists killed, including one who is
still missing and presumed dead,” says Nestor
Burgos, chairman of the National Union of
Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP).
Ampatuan Sr and one of his sons, Andal Jr,
are currently on trial on murder charges.
“I believe many democratic institutions in
the Philippines are weak and many processes
have failed. A true and working democracy
should protect journalists because a free press
is an integral component of a democratic
society,” says Burgos.
The flowering of the Arab Spring, vividly
captured by Al Jazeera with their 24-hour
no-holds-barred, in-depth broadcasting, has
earned praise from viewers but anger from
the troubled regimes.
In Egypt, mobs stormed and torched Al
Jazeera’s office in Cairo while scores of correspondents
were detained and physically
With a viewing audience of 60 million for
Al Jazeera Arabic and the younger Al Jazeera
English reaching 250 million households, the
Qatar-based broadcaster’s influence is growing
by leaps and bounds – to the wariness of
some governments in the region.
“Al Jazeera is the most widely watched
channel in the region so we are often targeted
for special treatment by those who want to
restrict the flow of information,” quips Rosie
Garthwaite, a producer for Al Jazeera English.
“Al Jazeera was specifically targeted by
the government and goons in Egypt as the
Arabic station was being broadcast on giant
screens in Tahrir Square. It became a source
of information, even a rallying cry for protesters,
as all other forms of information were
restricted,” adds Garthwaite.
The Arab Spring is turning out to be a
deadly season for journalists with numerous
incidents of deaths, detention and torture.
“Journalists have been killed in Libya,
Yemen, Egypt, and kidnapped and beaten in
Libya,” says Insi’s Pinder.
Acclaimed British photojournalist and filmmaker
Tim Hetherington, and Getty Images
photographer Chris Hondros were killed in
Libya’s western city of Misrata in a mortar
attack in April.
Misrata was besieged for weeks and came
under frequent aerial bombardments, artillery
and sniper attacks as government troops and
opposition rebels waged fierce battles.
Before this, Al Jazeera’s senior cameraman,
Ali Hassan Al-Jaber, was killed in what
appeared to be an ambush near Libya’s eastern
city of Benghazi in March.
Despite the dangers and long hours, many
idealistic men and women continue to take
risks and pursue the profession, believing
their reports and pictures can make a difference.
“The only reason to risk your life by going
into a danger zone is because you believe you
can do some good here. And by shedding light
on the world’s dark places, giving a voice to
suffering people whose voices are not heard
and raising awareness, responsible journalism
can do a lot of good,” says Andrew Marshall,
former Reuters bureau chief in Iraq.
Marshall was in Iraq from 2003 to 2005 at
the height of violence which killed several of
“Reckless behaviour and sensationalist
journalism in war zones, can, on the other
hand, do a lot of harm,” says Marshall.
He recently quit his post as Reuters’ deputy
editor for emerging and frontier Asia to write
an exposé on the intrigues of Thai politics, the
monarchy and the military based on 3,000
leaked US diplomatic cables.
“It would have been very difficult for
Reuters to run my story based on thousands
of leaked US cables on Thailand because it
represents a truly epic breach of Thai law
(leste majeste) and the company has more
than 1,000 staff in Bangkok,” says Marshall.
“But having seen the cables and knowing
their value in stimulating debate and informing
the Thai people, I could not have just
walked away and failed to try to write something
honest about Thailand.”
So he resigned to try to do something good,
Reuters says it didn’t publish the story
because it had “questions” over its “length,
sourcing, objectivity and legal issues”, according
to Marshall, who also claims that the story
received more than 70,000 hits in the first
week it was put on-line.
Marshall’s Thai story can be viewed at
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