The Baloch Hal News

QUETTA: A three-day training program on media, democracy and human rights organized by Balochistan Institute for Future Development (BIFD) with the collaboration of National Endowment for Democracy (NED) commenced here on Monday at Quetta Press Club.

It is the first training program of its type, which is being attended by journalists from fifteen districts of Balochistan in the first phase, aimed to teach the mid-career district correspondents about the new media techniques such as online journalism, blogs and social networks like Facebook and Twitter.

Balochistan is Pakistan’s most backward and least reported province where journalists rarely get modern media training to improve their professional skills. The largest province of the country area-wise is currently in the grip of a deadly nationalistic insurgency which has further jeopardized the working conditions for the media persons.

The workshop was inaugurated by Noor Khan Mohammad Hassani, Director Public Relations, Government of Balochistan, who said in his inaugural address that the media in Pakistan was currently being seen by the masses as a savior as well as an intruder which refused to follow a code of ethics. He regretted over the poor state of reporting from rural parts of Balochistan. The participants informed Mr. Hassani, who heads the government department that is responsible to propagate the official news, that they faced dire threats and, in some other cases, threats to their lives in interior Balochistan. These threats, they said, were posed mainly by the Frontier Corps (FC) which tried to create stumbling blocks for the reporters when they attempted to report from the area objectively.

Malik Siraj Akbar, project director of the series of trainings on media, democracy and human rights, introduced the participants with a twenty-five page booklet on the same subject. The booklet in Urdu language has reintroduced the journalists about the international declaration on human rights, the articles in the constitution of Pakistan that deal with human rights issues and a report based on the hardships the media professionals in Balochistan faced.

Journalists working in different districts shared the multiple threats they faced in a session moderated. They said it was very hard for them to report objectively. Majority of the journalists working in rural Balochistan neither get paid by their newspaper owners nor we they provided any kind of facilities to report from the underdeveloped and neglected parts of the province.

“We have become journalists because we are in love with the profession,” exclaimed one of the participants, who acknowledged that the economic state of district correspondents was miserable. They also pointed out that the newspapers and television channel owners hardly cared about their employees’ economic needs, safety and medical insurance.

Urooj Zia, a Karachi-based journalist, held an interactive session with the journalists hailing from assorted districts of Balochistan. She asked the participants as to why they chose to become journalists in spite of knowing the grave threats the profession entails for them. Almost all journalists confessed that journalism was still not a full-time profession for those reporting from rural parts of Balochistan, they still decided to become journalists because they felt they had a role to play to change their respective societies.

“Even though working in a tribal society involves a lot of risks,” said Mohammad Khan Sasoli, the president of Khuzdar Press Club, “I am satisfied when I start counting the achievements I have made as a journalist to force the government to look into certain neglected aspects of social development or corruption in the government.”

Speaking on “Forms of Journalism and the Role of Journalists in promoting Human Rights”, Urooj Zia, said press freedom was often compromised by the owners of different media outlets or the governments. The media is largely, she argued, controlled by corporations that use their advertisements not only to help in sustaining these newspapers but also set their policies. Likewise, so-called “state interests” were used as a pretext to curb the press freedom.

Masooma Qurban, one of very few working female journalists of Balochistan who is affiliated with Samma TV, discussed with the participants about the coverage of women’s issues in the media. She said reports on women of Balochistan and their basic human rights were rarely reported as women in the province were still largely voiceless. A women’s perspective is missing in the local media because male reporters hardly have access to female members of the families while female reporters would face the same problems if they tried to report on women’s issues because women would not agree to talk to the media without the prior consent of their parents and brothers.

The workshop is being attended by journalists from Quetta, Kalat, Mastung, Naseerabad, Jaffarabad, Kharan, Awaran, Panjgur, Sibi, Bolan, Khuzdar, Noshki, Chagai, Pishin and Jhal Magsi districts as well as the students of Department of Mass Communication and Media Studies, University of Balochistan.

Every session on the first day of the workshop was followed by enthralling and informative questions and answers sessions in which the district correspondents ventilated their views on the issue of media, democracy and human rights.