Pakistan: Reporters in Pakistan caught between the state and religious extremists | Media Development | DW | 14.06.2013
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Media Development

Pakistan: Reporters in Pakistan caught between the state and religious extremists

Two DW Akademie events held in Bonn and Berlin took an in-depth look at Pakistan’s media environment. The focus was on journalists’ working conditions and the challenges they face.

Speaker Sana Majeed McMillion at the Media Dialogue 2013 Pakistan's Media Landscape: The Effects of Liberalization held at DW on May 29 2013. (Photo: Philipp Böll/ DW).

Sana Majeed McMillion speaking on Pakistan's blasphemy laws

"Write a positive story about Pakistan for once." That’s something Hasnain Kazim frequently hears. He’s the Pakistan correspondent for the German news magazine "Der Spiegel" and was a guest at the "Media International" discussion round held May 30 in Berlin. It was part of a series organized by DW Akademie and the German public broadcaster, ARD.

The discussion focused on Pakistan’s media environment and the workingconditions for journalists. Other guests included Florian Meesmann, former ARD correspondent in New Delhi, Dr. Altaf Khan, head of DW's Urdu service, and Dr. Noshina Saleem, a media researcher at the University of the Punjab.

Hasnain Kazim (right) discussing with moderator, Grahame Lucas at the Media Dialogue 2013 Pakistan's Media Landscape: The Effects of Liberalization held at DW on May 29 2013. (Photo: Philipp Böll/ DW).

Hasnain Kazim (right) discussing with moderator, Grahame Lucas

In-depth research is difficult for Pakistani journalists. "I want to see the things I’m writing about," said Hasnain Kazim, "but I’m often not allowed to. As a result, I don't report on them."

Censorship challenges

The previous day, Kazim and Dr. Khan had taken part in DW Akademie's fourth Media Dialogue, held in Bonn. The one-day symposium brought together international academics and Pakistan experts to also discuss Pakistan's media environment. Censorship was a core issue. Everyone agreed that the quality of reporting in Pakistan was determined by research restrictions, threatsagainst journalists and a resulting self-censorship.

Pressure from many sides

In his opening talk, Professor Dr. Christoph Schmidt, head of DW Akademie’s International Media Studies in Bonn, pointed to the country's growing media market and the obstacles journalists face when trying to report objectively. Increasing pressure was coming from the political sphere, the secret service, the military and religious extremists.

Noshina Saleem from the University of the Punjab speaking at the Media Dialogue 2013 Pakistan's Media Landscape: The Effects of Liberalization held at DW on May 29 2013. (Photo: Philipp Böll/ DW).

Noshina Saleem from the University of the Punjab

"The military sees journalists simply as soldiers who write," summed up Spiegel reporter Kazim, "and they don't expect them to be neutral." The country's so-called 'blasphemy laws' were also discussed. Officially, said media consultant Sana Majeed McMillion, the legislation was to preventinsults against Islam but in reality, "the laws are just instrumentsof power".

Transforming cyber enthusiasm

As for the role of new media, the state was to win influence here as well, said researchers Dr. Liane Tessa Rothenberger and Fauzia Shaheen. During the 2012 floods and the general elections held in May 2013, "new media played a significant role in coordinating aid and mobilizing voters". The challenge, they said, was how to transform this cyber enthusiasm into a real strategy.

Professor Cornelius Pratt speaking at the Media Dialogue 2013 Pakistan's Media Landscape: The Effects of Liberalization held at DW on May 29 2013. (Photo: Philipp Böll/ DW).

Professor Cornelius Pratt stressing the importance of journalistic ethics

Differing media perspectives

And that, said Professor Cornelius Pratt of America's Temple University, raised the issue of journalistic ethics. He showed how the culture of expectation between the state, media users and media professionals had developed in Pakistan. The question, he said, became not just how things were reported on, but also which topics were covered.

Just how differently these issues are perceived in the West and in Pakistan itself was the focus of research conducted by freelance journalist and graduate of the International Media Studies program, Atif Tauqueer. He compared how Osama bin Laden's death was covered by the press in Pakistan, England and the United States, and concluded that while western media had concentrated on bin Laden's death, Pakistani media had focused on the legal and political aspects of the US army’s controversial operation on Pakistani territory.

Atif Tauqueer Hamid speaking at the Media Dialogue 2013 Pakistan's Media Landscape: The Effects of Liberalization held at DW on May 29 2013. (Photo: Philipp Böll/ DW).

Atif Tauqueer Hamid comparing media perspectives

Journalists in Pakistan live dangerously. The country is still seen as one of the most dangerous countries in the world for reporters, and as a result, journalists lean towards self-censorship. A Pakistani journalist was once quoted as saying, "I don’t get paid for what I write, but for what I don’t write."

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