The Second Floor (T2F) on Saturday, November 9, 2013, held a panel discussion aimed at discussing with the general public “The Realities of Reporting in Pakistan”.
The panel comprised of the Editor of Express Tribune Kamal Siddiqi, the Bureau Chief of Aaj News Riffat Saeed, the Bureau Chief of the Daily Times Iqbal Khattak, who is also a member of the international Organization Reporters Without Borders; a business reporter of The News International Hina Maghul Rind and a crime reporter for Dawn, Imtiaz Ali.
The discussion was being moderated by Director Media Development at Civic Action Resources Adnan Rehmat.
The session began with Rehmat introducing his companions to the audience present, before mentioning the four basic obstacles faced by on-field journalists: lack of professionalism and training, few permissible topics, the low salary earned and terrorism faced by reporters in the form of kidnappings, torture or threats.
He then graciously gave the floor over to Siddiqi, who began his five minute speech by stressing on the importance of personal safety with regards to reporters.
“No story you do is worth dying for!” he stressed.
The Editor of Express Tribune further stated that there was a communication gap between reporters covering news on ground, and the editors and content writers in the newsroom.
“Reporters feel as if the news desk does not understand what they are saying; and in some cases it is also very true. There have been instances were journalists were killed due to an incorrect headline.”
Moreover, Imtiaz Ali also added that investigative and factual reporting was at an all-time low in the field due to a lack of safety for active journalists.
“We hear of many journalists who were ‘killed in an encounter’”, he said to the enrapt audience. “There is no safety where a journalist’s work is concerned”.
During the session, Adnan Rehmat insisted on the removal of a general misconception “that it is militancy which is responsible for so much terrorism against journalists.”
Insisting that this incorrect perception be permanently removed from the general consumer’s mind, he further stated that “Karachi is one of the most dangerous cities to undertake journalism, after Lyari.”
The floor was then given over to Iqbal Khattak, who introduced himself to the audience before talking about his singularly unique experiences working as a reporter in Peshawar.
“Since I am in Peshawar, my proximity to danger is far greater than those (journalists) in Karachi,” he declared.
“Most readers or viewers don’t get to see the (true) story because we are under a lot of pressure from numerous angles. “
He informed the audience present that he had been doing terrorism-related stories since after 9/11. “I simply say that I am lucky to be alive!”
Khattak insisted that his high ethical standards were the reason for his continued longevity. Speaking of the difficulties faced by a journalist during times of conflict, he stated that each party “tries to portray itself the victim”.
“The media is (most) unprepared to handle conflict related journalism.”
He related a recent incident in which he had kept a story under wraps due to an investigation that was underway in a case filed against him.
“I do not want people saying that I published the story to sway the police.”
He stated that he would publish the story once his name was cleared, insisting that nobody could force a journalist to print – or not to print – a story. Khattak also added that some of the murders that have taken place in the past were due to a lack of ethics on the part of journalists covering the story.
“We go to troubled places when others are running to safety.”
He further mentioned the harsh circumstances most journalists are forced to live in, preferring to live with their passion rather than a job that earns more.
“We are very poor – both individually and institutionally,” said Khattak at the event.
Rehmat then posed a question to Hina Maghul, asking her to explain to the audience present how – as content developer in the news room – they (news desks) verified information received from multiple sources in the face of legal restrictions.
Maghul told the audience that most of the pressure regarding which news to publish and which to keep under wraps came mostly from the corporate section of the business.
“How the paper will be affected by the news we publish – that is the sort of pressure we come under,” she said.
Bureau Chief of Aaj News Riffat Saeed then took over the floor and talked about his experience in the field of journalism.
In answer to a question regarding the current ‘insensitive’ forms of journalism, he stated that the field was run by two major aspects: Ratings of the news channels and the race between different channels regarding who will publish/broadcast which news first.
“We can hold back news which we feel is incorrect and baseless,” he said, “but there is nobody to appreciate that you – as a news editor or reporter – chose to hold back news meant only to sensationalize rather than correctly report an event.”
Speaking of the conditions that most journalists worked in, he stated that the conditions were deplorable and there was no insurance program available for journalists in Pakistan.
“There are different resources available to different news agencies depending on the amount of money they are willing to spend on their reporters. (However) there is no safety training given to reporters. Training for the danger zones is different – it cannot be accomplished with a two hour “training” session inside a hotel room.”
He further said that most news institutions did not care about their reporters’ safety.
“Most safety jackets given to reporters have already expired – yes, there is an expiry date for safety jackets as well. Just because he (the journalist) is wearing one does not mean he is protected by the bullets being fired in the area he is covering.”
Saeed also stated that there was no relation between “journalism as taught in books” with “what’s really out there”.
“A journalist is born – not made!” he declared passionately. “You cannot teach journalism to someone who does not have it in them.”
The discussion then moved on toward the difference between print and electronic media, with the panel being hugely in favour of the electronic form of publishing news.
Speaking of the new and evolving forms of media, Siddiqi stated, “Media is losing its role; Social Media is replacing it in terms of information – so called ‘informal’ media.”
Before leaving the floor open for questions from the audience however, he pointed towards Jahanzeb Haq sitting in the audience and asked him to share his views regarding the growing social media platforms and how they are affecting the traditional news level.
“We have suddenly become more accountable for what we publish,” said Mr. Haq. “The online space has allowed Media to interact with the regular consumer – thus also giving them the opportunity to point out corrections that are required in our pieces. We have corrected many errors in our news after (they were) pointed out by one of our readers. That is not possible in broadcast media.”
“This is a new age.”