Media and Human Rights
Regional Seminar on Independent Functioning of Press/Media Councils, World Association of Press Councils, Gazimagusa, North Cyprus
September 7-9, 2000
News reporting is perhaps the most challenging job for a journalist. It requires objectivity, courage and conviction. The value of these essential elements of news reporting becomes all the more crucial when one is reporting human rights issues. For unlike other areas of news reporting, human rights reporting requires extra zeal and commitment from a reporter, especially in cases involving gross violation of the rights of woman and children. Since human rights reporters are a direct participant in particular situations involving violation of human rights, and work with reality itself, their work is not only more credible but can really make a difference as far as the protection of human rights by state authorities voluntarily or under the pressure of external powers, including international organizations, is concerned. In the longer run, through their reporting and opinion writing, journalists can create a public opinion which is conducive for social change required to get rid of traditional values hampering the full realization of human rights in a conservative society. These are some of the key lessons I have learned from my own experience of human rights reporting in a leading Pakistan English newspaper, The Nation. Since the late 1970s, the Pakistani society has been plagued by the phenomenon of Islamic extremism. The bigoted or perverted way in which Islam has been interpreted, and implemented, during this period has had horrific social consequences. In a socially conservative, economically weak, politically backward country, we should naturally expect women and children to be on the receiving end. But Pakistan’s track-record in securing the rights of women and children is not just miserable but shameless. It was during 1994 that I published extensively in The Nation on the human rights situation in Pakistan in the form of both news reporting and opinion writing. I was then a Staff Reporter of the newspaper in Islamabad, and two horrific cases of woman rights violation and one case involving child rights violation that I reported during the year are worth mentioning. Did I succeed in bringing relief to the victim and punishment to the culprit? Or, is it a reporter’s duty to do so? Do public opinion and media campaign on human rights make a difference in a country whose ruling elites, purely out of political considerations, show a total lack of concern and conviction on the question of human rights? Are there some lessons to be learned from human rights reporting in countries like Pakistan where the forces of religious bigotry enjoy considerable influence in a vastly poor, ignorant and militaristic state and society? Full Text