“On May 9, during routine reporting near Qila Bala Hissar, we encountered fervent protestors who were already highly agitated. Amid the chaos, an Edhi Ambulance was set ablaze by the protestors, a shocking scene captured by our camera. As our cameraperson approached the burning ambulance, individuals brandishing Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf flags intervened, surrounding our cameraperson and vehemently denying any coverage.”
Zakirullah, a seasoned reporter with the private television channel “Dunya News” in Peshawar, recollects the harrowing incident. He reveals that on that day, Digital News Gathering (DCNG) teams from various media outlets and police officers were stationed near the assembly, using tear gas to disperse the protesters. Zakirullah and his cameraman, Azizullah, found themselves amidst the demonstrators, diligently performing their duties despite the tumult.
Zakirullah describes the challenging circumstances: “The enraged protestors surrounded Azizullah, seized his camera, and subjected him to physical assault. When I reached the scene, Azizullah’s clothes were torn, and he appeared visibly shaken. He managed to negotiate with the protestors, convincing them not to film, as they were on the streets protesting the arrest of their leader. It remains etched in my memory because anything could have transpired that day.”
Journalists like Zakirullah often face precarious situations in the line of duty, compelled to cover political rallies, demonstrations, and other events despite feeling unsafe. “We were aware that venturing into the midst of angry protestors posed risks to our safety. However, on that day, circumstances unfolded in a way that we were encircled by irate protestors, and subjected to harassment,” Zakirullah reflects.
Zeeshan Kakakhel, a reporter associated with 92 News (Peshawar), faced harassment during the inauguration of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Parliamentary Party at a private wedding hall in Peshawar. The event, led by former Chief Minister Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Pervez Khattak, saw Kakakhel using his mobile phone to capture footage. However, individuals in plain clothes objected, preventing him from covering the event and ultimately expelling him along with other journalists.
Zeeshan recounts that his data was deleted from the mobile, and the device was returned after intervention from Peshawar Press Club officials. He expressed confusion about the unwarranted treatment, emphasizing that journalists, fulfilling their responsibilities, often face risks in such situations due to newsroom policies.
In response, Ziaullah Bangash, the spokesperson for Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Parliamentarian, stated that the party didn’t invite any media organization, considering it a personal event. He asserted that Zeeshan attended without permission, prompting the ban on unauthorized footage.
Peshawar Press Club General Secretary Irfan Musazai condemned the illegal harassment and torture of media workers by political or religious parties, emphasizing the club’s consistent stance against such actions.
He mentioned that the Peshawar Press Club has long been organizing workshops to train media workers on self-protection while covering events such as political rallies, bomb blasts, and other dangerous situations. Musa Zai affirmed their commitment to ensuring reporters’ safety.
Highlighting the risks journalists face in the pursuit of breaking news, Musa Zai noted that the Press Club consistently speaks out against harassment by political or religious entities. Many such cases have been resolved amicably with the intervention of the Press Club.
Regarding measures taken by the provincial government to protect journalists covering political and religious events, Muhammad Imran, the Director-General of the Information Department of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, stated that the government has implemented initiatives for journalist protection. Additionally, efforts are underway to pass the Journalist Protection Act, with the Information Department seeking input and consultation from journalists’ organizations for its approval in the assembly.
Imran emphasized the government’s readiness for consultation and urged journalist organizations to provide suggestions for the swift passage of the act. He also mentioned the approval of the Journalists’ Endowment Fund Rules by the provincial government, ensuring financial assistance, including one million rupees for the families of journalists who lost their lives in terrorist incidents and two lakh rupees for disabled journalists.
Note: This story is part of the Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF) Fellowship.