Self-censorship: Tribal journalists facing economic, security hazards

By Iqbal Khattak

PESHAWAR: Tribal journalists are facing grave economic and security challenges because of their self-censorship for fear of direct threats from either the Taliban or the security forces, speakers at a workshop said on Wednesday.

Most Pakistani media organisations ‘are not paying for our work’, posing economic challenges for the journalists, the speakers told the workshop organised by Intermedia, a Pakistani media development organisation.

“We are not paid for the job we are doing,” Wazir Afridi, a scribe from Darra Adam Khel, told the workshop. A participant said self-censorship was widespread among tribal journalists. “It is very difficult to report events freely. We face problems from the Taliban and the security forces,” said the participant who did not wish to be named.

“There are many things which we do not report for the sake of our area and ourselves. But we are held responsible if someone reports from Peshawar or Islamabad about our areas,” he said. “We are reporting 50 percent of the events taking place in our area,” a tribal journalist from North Waziristan said. “We need to exercise self-censorship to stay alive.” A journalist from Bajaur said it was difficult to crosscheck casualty figures from independent sources. “If we report that civilians are killed by government or Taliban firing, we risk our lives,” he said.

Another journalist said the political administration was not extending any help or support to the journalists.

Many tribal journalists have been killed or forced to flee because of reporting from the Tribal Areas, Tribal Union of Journalists (TUJ) President Nasir Mohmand said.

TUJ General Secretary Aurangzeb Afridi said Taliban were easy to approach and gave more ‘accurate details’ of an event than security forces or the local administration. However, former TUJ president Sailab Mehsud differed with Auranzeb’s views.

The participants said foreign radio stations airing Pashtu and Urdu programmes were more popular than Pakistan’s state-run media in the Tribal Areas.

They criticised a race among Pakistani TV channels for breaking news, saying most networks ‘exaggerated’ casualty figures to catch up with rival channels if they did not initially break a news. “We get calls from Taliban and security forces as to why exaggerated figures were reported,” they added.

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