Five of Pakistan’s largest press clubs came together in Islamabad on November 5, 2015 to launch a new concerted plan supported by International Media Support involving establishing Safety Hubs for the country’s beleaguered media practitioners.
The collective membership of these press clubs represents over half of Pakistan’s community of 18,000 working journalists, making this one of the largest programs ever engaging media practitioners in the country.
The elected leadership of the press clubs, including presidents and secretaries general of the Karachi Press Club, Lahore Press Club, National Press Club, Peshawar Press Club, Quetta Press Club as well as the Dera Ismail Khan Press Club were attending the inception meeting of a new program managed by Freedom Network [FN], Pakistan’s first media watchdog organization.
FN is supported by International Media Support (www.mediaspport.org) for this Safety Hubs Project under a program financed by the Government of Norway.
Each of the six press clubs agreed to establish journalist safety resource hubs at their premises through technical assistance provided by Freedom Network. Under the program, among other things the Safety Hubs will improve reporting, documentation and analysis of threats and attacks against journalists and media houses as a means of improving response and assistance mechanisms for journalists in distress.
Speaking on the occasion, citing the organization’s own research statistics, FN official Shaukat Ali said 116 journalists have been killed in Pakistan since 2000 with over 2,000 attacked, injured, kidnapped, arrested and injured over in the same period. He said these statistics were based on cases reported in the media only rather than actual numbers and the Safety Hubs are expected to improve the process of accurate reporting and documentation.
Morten Ostervang, the manager for IMS programs in South Asia, speaking on the occasion said this new program is expected to strengthen Pakistani efforts, particularly those by the community of media practitioners, to strengthen threat response.
Pointing out that the UN Plan of Action against Impunity and Issues of Journalists’ Safety, launched in 2012, which includes Pakistan as one of the five pilot countries for its implementation, Ostervang said the issue of growing attacks against media and impunity of crimes against them is not unique to Pakistan but also in the world. “How Pakistan responds to the threats and impunity, perhaps with initiatives such as Safety Hubs, will likely offer lessons for other countries in the world to improve their response mechanisms,” he said.
Adnan Rehmat, representing IMS in Pakistan, said there is growing consensus among journalists in the country on the need to build capacities to take organized actions based on accurate data and analysis on threats and attacks against them to customize response strategies and Safety Hubs can be the platform through which this can be done.
Iqbal Khattak, the National Coordinator on Media Safety for the Pakistan Coalition on Media Safety (PCOMS) said that despite the high levels of intimidation and attacks against media in Pakistan, the quality of evidence preservations is unacceptably poor. “This adversely affects appropriate and adequate response to these threats and hence mitigation strategies,” he said, adding that this new IMS program will hopefully improve this situation.
Syed Bukhar Shah, the president of Peshawar Press Club, welcomed the new program and said it would help the large community of journalists in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa organize and process the information about threats to them to improve their responses to mitigate risks.
Arshad Ansari, the president of Lahore Press Club, welcomed this program as a timely initiative to fight back against the critical mass of diversifying and morphing threats. He felt the core mandate of the Safety Hubs as the journalist threat documentation and response mechanisms as key to better safety for journalists.
A. H. Khanzada, the general secretary, of the Karachi Press Club, said the growing threats to media practitioners in Pakistan is worrisome and while the government is primarily responsible for life and liberty of all citizens, the community of journalists should take the lead in responding to these threats and initiatives like the Safety Hubs could help do this effectively.
Ahmed Khan Kamrani, the president of Dera Ismail Khan Press Club said they look forward to partnering up with its counterparts in the other cities under this Freedom Network program to contribute to a collaborative process of responding to threats.
Abdul Khalid Rind, Secretary General of the Quetta Press Club, said that the nature of threats against journalists are growing requiring a more robust response than current ones to mitigate them. He added that the initiative of Safety Hubs can offer the opportunity to achieve this.