“One of the biggest challenges facing the field of journalism is its porous nature,” our lecturer told the class once. A ‘porous border’ means it has openings at various distances through which cross-border movement of people continues off the radar. Likewise, suppose the word ‘porous’ is used with journalism. In that case, it translates into being open to any literate – relevant degree having less or no value in this regard – who barely knows or is completely devoid of reporting skills to enter the field, compromising journalism ethics to a larger extent.
This compounds the journalism landscape in Balochistan. Additionally, centralisation of journalists, media outlets, and journalism powerhouses concentrated in the provincial capital has added to the journalism crisis. For instance, any development happening in any corner of the province first has to travel to Quetta, finally making the headlines with the byline of the concerned reporter based in the capital city.
The centralisation of journalism has created a gulf filled by untrained journalists and reporters carrying out day-to-day news-contributing processes from far-flung areas. Unfortunately, the daggers start hanging over the heads of journalists when journalism is carried out in a conflict-ridden zone such as Balochistan. Balochistan has grown to a blend of security crises that requires journalists to equip themselves with an understanding and practice of conflict-sensitive journalism. Adhering to the term and its practices has become inevitable for journalists in Balochistan. This will help journalists do away with the concept of ‘confrontational journalism’ which often blurs the delicate line between activism and journalism.
The core principle of conflict-sensitive journalism is interlinked with understanding the conflict, and its dimensions (ethnic, religious or based on regionalism). Importantly, this includes knowing the stages of the conflict: latent, emerging, manifestation of violence, and violent conflict. Let us keep the explanation of these stages for another column.
Moreover, one of the core assumptions in conflict-sensitive journalism emphesises on journalists being objective while avoiding toing lines, and advocating a potential solution since their role is to communicate in such a way that can bring accurate facts to the parties to which they, otherwise, have no access. For this, journalists need to be closer to the victims (laypersons) who are broadly affected by the conflict.
Besides, threats and dangers to most of the journalists reporting from the conflict zone are always high. This is partially because of a lack of understanding of the multidimensional nature of the conflict which jeopardises their mental wellbeing while exposing themselves to violent events when out to cover sensitive happenings.
Apart from physical dangers, psychological repercussions take a heavy toll on journalists reporting from a conflict zone. Balochistan has suffered many heart-shattering suicide attacks. The recent attack on Eid Miladun Nabi rally in Mastung was one of the deadliest ones. The bombing claimed 60 lives. The bombing was followed by many journalists sharing post-bombing albeit disturbing footages.
There came into play the self-inflicted trauma by the untrained journalists directly exposed to the impact of happenings or sharing the footages received after the incident. The visuals were fraught with mutilated body parts and blood-soaked pieces of clothes. Such a debut by the journalists to raise their profiles as journalists leads to traumatic experiences for both the viewers and especially for the journalists themselves.
Furthermore, although there are various media outlets and non-governmental organisations engaged in skill-development programmes for journalists, the gist of the issue lies in the lack of or low-standard journalism courses available to the students in Balochistan. For instance, Balochistan University is the only institution that offers masters in journalism yet has no enrolment in research-oriented degrees such as M.Phil or Ph.D. This severely, or to a large extent, adversely affects the research landscape in the field, further complicating the already low standard of journalism.
What Balochistan’s journalism landscape needs on a war footing basis is a well-developed conflict-sensitive journalism course taught across all private and public-sector institutions. This will equip journalists with the necessary skills and tools to report from a conflict zone such as Balochistan, especially the younger aspirants who are willing to opt for their careers as journalists.
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