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'Big milestone'

Shamil ShamsOctober 29, 2012

Germany's non-governmental organization FES has decided to bestow its human rights award on Pakistan's Tribal Union of Journalists for consolidating media freedom in one of the world's most dangerous regions.

Pakistan's ex Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud talking to journalists in South-Waziristan bordering Afghanistan Photo: EPA/STR BEST QUALITY AVAILABLE (c) dpa - Report
Image: picture-alliance/ dpa

Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES), an independent political foundation associated with the Social Democratic Party (SPD) of Germany, honors individuals and organizations annually for their outstanding services for human rights in different parts of the world.

The FES announced that this year it would pay tribute to a Pakistani journalists' union - the Tribal Union of Journalists - which has been working for 20 years in the semi-governed tribal areas in the Pakistan's northwest.

Pakistan's northwestern Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) bordering Afghanistan is known to be the hub of Taliban militants and al Qaeda operatives. The United States blames these militants for launching attacks on international troops in Afghanistan.

Friedrich Ebert Stiftung logo
The FES Human Rights Award was presented for the first time in 1994

The Tribal Union of Journalists (TUJ) is a representative body of over 250 journalists working for national and international media.

"The TUJ exemplifies the courage of local journalists who, at the risk of their lives, provide the outside world with crucial background from the 'black box' of the Afghan-Pakistani border region," Konstantin Bärwaldt of FES told DW.

The award ceremony takes place in Berlin on October 31st.


Safdar Dawar, TUJ's president, told DW he was thankful the TUJ had been chosen for the prestigious award.

"The international community has realized how dangerous it is to work in Pakistan's northwestern tribal areas with almost no support from the government." Dawar added that a number of his fellow journalists had been killed by militants in the line of duty.

Dawar lamented that the Pakistani government was not doing much to recognize the efforts of the tribal journalists.

Safdar Hayat Dawar, Photo: DW/Shakoor Rahim
Safdar Hayat Dawar will accept the FES award for the TUJImage: DW/Shakoor Rahim

"On the one hand, international organizations like the FES are acknowledging our role in reporting from one of the most dangerous areas of the world, on the other hand, the Pakistani government is totally indifferent to our issues."

He said that their demands for better facilities and life insurance had been falling on deaf ears.

He also explained that the Pakistani laws did not allow independent media in the FATA, which made it more difficult for the tribal journalists to report. He demanded that the government change its laws and allow independent media to function in the tribal areas, which according to him, would facilitate democracy in the region.

"I hope that international awards will make things better for journalists and the media freedom in the FATA."

Perilous job

Faridullah Khan, a DW correspondent in Peshawar, said that the FES award was a big milestone for journalists whose efforts went largely unacknowledged. "These journalists are paid less, their security is not ensured, yet they bring out the information from the most perilous areas and share it with the world."

A 2012 UNESCO report ranks Pakistan "the second most dangerous country for journalists after Mexico. According to the South Asian Free Media Association (SAFMA), 17 journalists were killed in South Asia in 2011, 12 of them in Pakistan.

Terrorism and Islamism are the most dangerous issues for Pakistani journalists to report on, SAFMA said.

A Pakistani journalist protests against the killing of a Pakistani journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad in 2011; Photo: AP Photo/Pervez Masih
The ISI was accused of involvement in the kidnapping and murder of journalist Saleem ShahzadImage: ap

Imtiaz Alam, SAFMA secretary general, blamed both state and non-state elements for the situation. "So many journalists in Pakistan have been killed. Yet nobody has ever been brought to justice for their murders."

Nasir Tufail of Geo TV told DW that the local and foreign media relied on only a few journalists for information about the restive northwestern tribal areas.

"Most journalists can't even enter these areas," he said. "Therefore, it's not easy to get reliable news about the Taliban and the 'war on terror.'"