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Pakistan urged to protect journalists’ safety

A recent attack on celebrated Pakistani news anchor, Hamid Mir, illuminated the dangerous reality for journalists working in Pakistan, and legal experts say journalists should be protected.

LAHORE: For years, Pakistan has been one of the world's most dangerous countries for journalists.

From feudal landlords to Taliban fighters, to sectarian groups to separatists, there are constant deadly threats to reporters.

The recent attack on celebrated news anchor, Hamid Mir, illuminated the dangerous reality for journalists working in Pakistan.

Unknown gunmen opened fire on Mir. Wounded by three bullets, he managed to survive but not everyone is as lucky.

In the past few years, local as well as foreign reporters in conflict areas have been routinely killed across the country.

Experts say regional conflict is to blame for cultivating such a dangerous situation.

"War on terror is the main cause. As far as Pakistan is concerned, it is living under the shadows of that war. The terrorist groups, they are organised here,” Mujeeb Ur Rehman Shami, senior journalist and political analyst, said.

“We can't say that one force... is threatening -- there are so many groups. Some people say some agencies are doing it, some people say some ethnic groups are doing it. As far as non-state actors are concerned, the real threat is from them but most of the journalists are not prepared to name them."

This lack of information and prevailing fear to name attackers has led the Committee to Protect Journalists to name Pakistan as one of 13 countries on its Impunity Index -- a country where journalists are targeted and their murders are most likely to go unpunished.

Umar Cheema, a reporter who had been tortured, said: "In Pakistan, journalists are free to speak, write and say anything but they have to do it at their own risk. There is no state power to help them. There is no law to offer them protection, so it's up to the limit they define for themselves."

Journalists are often forced to report without any training or safety, and while attacks may be difficult to prevent, legal experts say journalists should be protected.

Senior lawyer Nasira Iqbal said: "There must be some form of group insurance so that they are protected whenever they are in a situation like this and loss happens. Then at least their families are compensated and they can get legislation requiring the state to do certain things to protect journalists."

Violence aimed at censoring media coverage and gagging opposing voices remains largely unchecked.

While President Nawaz Sharif has suggested he is open to implementing better safety measures for reporters, there is much to be done to safeguard the fourth pillar of the state. 

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