Journalists covering Islamabad sit-ins brave manhandling

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KARACHI: At least one dozen journalists and their supporting staffers belonging to different news channels have braved harassment and manhandling at the hands of angry cadres of a ruling party and two opposition parties, while covering their protest rallies and sit-ins on the Constitution Avenue of the capital of Pakistan, Islamabad.

These claimants of democracy and the rule of law harassed and manhandled fourth the pillar of democracy to stop them for the objective coverage of the sit-ins. The wrath of these party workers was not limited to only one channel or one gender, but they also harassed a woman journalist, and attacked at least one dozen journalists and supporting staff, besides harming their vehicles and equipment.

The journalists who were harassed and manhandled by the workers of opposition as well as a ruling party, belonged to Aaj TV, ARY News, Geo TV and Samaa TV. These sad attacks on journalists have raised eyebrows of the community across the country and internationally.

It is a widely acknowledged fact that Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) sit-in would have tapered off had the media not been giving extensive coverage to the party chairman’s speeches daily that often ended late evening.

The angry workers are at a loss to understand that the working journalists have to cover and report the issues and events irrespective of what different sections of society may or may not like to read or watch. More importantly the political actors need journalists as much to tell their stories as do the journalists to report such stories. Media plays a crucial role in shaping a healthy democracy. It is the backbone of a democracy. Media makes people aware of various social, political and economical activities happening around the world. It is like a mirror, which shows or strives to show the truth and harsher realities. If media persons close their eyes the government officials will openly do what they want.

First of all to confront a harsh situation was Geo TV as their reporters Azaz Syed, Arshad Waheed, Farhat Jabeen (a woman journalist) and Saif-ur-Rehman and cameramen Shabbir Ahmed and Khurram Shehzad while covering the sit-in on 16th August came across an unfriendly crowed of PTI. The same crowed had given a warm welcome to the reporters and supporting staff of ARY News channel that day, as they thought that channel was giving them their desired coverage.

A PTI activist, Gulfam Khan Pathan, a joint secretary of union council of Hamsheerian district Mansehra of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) province had said that since their leader Imran Khan had boycotted Geo TV therefore its staff deserved the treatment.

The chief coordinator of PML-N, Siddiq Farooq, at that time termed the manhandling of the TV team ‘undemocratic attitude’.

Jang group has yet claimed that as many as eight reporters, cameramen and drivers had been assaulted by the workers of PTI recently.

Khan, who had in his speeches unintentionally instigated his charged workers against Jang group, condemned after a couple of days on 18th August, the attacks by his workers on Geo reporters.

Geo TV’s digital satellite news gathering (DSNG) van once again came under attack on 21st August right after two days of Khan’s condemning such act by PTI workers. The woman reporter, Farhat Javed, and other media staff were sitting in the van to cover the latest situation of the sit-in. However, due to the attack they had to flee to their office without performing their duties.

Not only opposition marchers were among the attackers but supporters of ruling party Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) had their share also in adding another incident of ‘undemocratic attitude’. Babar Malik of ARY News was attacked by a group of political activists on 21st while covering the Pakistan Muslim League-N rally brought out by its local leaders. The journalist said: “First the angry activists abused the television channel and its anchors and then they started beating me. Although I was not injured seriously, I suffered various bruises.”

The victim demanded the government to provide security to the on-duty journalists as they cannot perform duties under such hostile circumstances.

A Samaa TV crew was also harassed on 24th August at the march by workers who also confiscated their footage.

Aaj TV team was attacked by PTI workers who were managing security arrangements of the demo outside the Parliament House on 24th October. They demanded to check the channel’s DSNG and on denial they climbed the van and roughed up the reporters and support staff. At least four crew members from Aaj News including DSNG engineer Iqbal, cameramen, Usmaan, Iqbal and Samaarat were attacked.

The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) at ‘Pro-democracy’ camp on 25th August had deprecated the undemocratic acts of what it called ‘container politicians’ to attack journalists and said that such sit-ins had put an adverse effect on the national economy and paralyzed the capital city including its educational institutes.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has also called on all sides to respect the role of journalists and media workers. “We note that the organizers of the ‘Freedom March’ have condemned these attacks but they must do more to control their supporters and ensure the safety of journalists covering the protests,” said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney.

Pakistan Press Foundation

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