"The Stakes are Higher for Pakistani Journalists"
I and eight other American journalists have just returned from 12 days in Pakistan under the auspices of ICFJ’s U.S.-Pakistan Professional Partnership in Journalism program. It was a terrific experience professionally and personally because of the high quality of the whirlwind program set up by ICFJ and its miracle-working partners on the ground in Pakistan, Mishal; because of the many informed and insightful Pakistanis we met from the worlds of politics, business, academe, culture and the media; and because of the camaraderie and curiosity of the U.S. journalists with whom I was fortunate enough to share the adventure.
The greatest pleasure and most humbling aspect of the trip was in meeting so many of our colleagues in the Pakistani press. They welcomed us warmly and told us of their lives, their work and their nation, and we learned to appreciate their critical role in building a new, more democratic Pakistan. We also learned of the multiple obstacles they face.
American journalists, for all the important things we do, are notorious whiners. We complain about the lousy food in the snack bar, the lack of windows in the newsroom, annoying editors and lots of other things. The stakes are higher for Pakistani journalists. They have the freedom to cover almost anything but in many cases only if they're willing to face down threats that can come from almost anywhere – from Taliban and other religious extremists, from military and intelligence agencies, from separatists, gangsters, business interests or just somebody who gets ticked off. After all, as one investigative reporter told us, in Pakistan you can rent a Kalashnikov.
Every senior editor we talked to gets threatened on a regular basis. Just about every reporter who covers a sensitive topic – and there are many – has been threatened or attacked. Pakistan in recent years has been the deadliest place for journalists. Pakistani media count at least 77 journalists killed since 2001 and more than 2,000 arrested, beaten or kidnapped. Then there’s the low pay and long hours, which, as one editor pointed out, makes family life difficult.
Pakistani media have plenty of faults, including a considerable amount of sensationalist, irresponsible coverage and corruption – as Pakistani journalists will be the first to admit. But they stand on the front lines every day.
So, to our Pakistani colleagues and friends, please know that we admire and support you. Thank you for your hospitality. Thank you for reminding us of the importance of our calling.