Notes from the Field

From Pakistan: Human Rights Journalism Awards for Pakistani Journalists

December 9, 2009

Pakistan is signatory to eight international human rights conventions, four of which have been ratified. Despite these legal achievements, the reality of the current state of human rights in Pakistan remains bleak, according to Amnesty International’s latest State of the World’s Human Rights report. Prison torture, deaths in custody, attacks on minorities, forced disappearances, honor killings, and domestic violence persist.

Yet, Pakistan is well-known for its robust electronic and print media, which has emerged as a mouthpiece for its citizens to voice concerns about governance, democracy, and human rights. Pakistani journalists are at the forefront of covering human rights abuses – whether a military operation or barring girls from attending schools.

However, rapid growth has come with its own challenges. Inadequate media facilities, lack of training, and little understanding of human rights framework undermines the media’s ability to protect and promote human rights. District-level journalists attempting to cover systematic violations of human rights in rural Pakistan are particularly affected by such deficiencies.

The absence of a responsive audience, fear of persecution, and a lack of state mechanisms to address such issues are factors that also contribute to the challenges. Most local journalists who report on human rights from far away districts remain uncertain if their news reports will ever reach the editor’s desk, thus discouraging district-level reporters to cover any incidents at all where human rights violations have taken place. Given these circumstances, what is really needed is a platform for journalists to produce effective, accurate, and reliable reporting.

In response, The Asia Foundation, with support from the Royal Netherlands Embassy, began supporting local human rights organizations in Pakistan through its Human Rights Fund. The fund helps local NGOs and government institutions – such as the Ministry of Human Rights and the National Commission on the Status of Women – address human rights violations and help fulfill international human rights obligations. It covers a wide range of areas, including economic rights, prisoner’s rights, women’s rights, rights of ethnic and religious minorities, and access to information and freedom of speech.

The Asia Foundation sponsors a one-day media training workshop in Pakistan’s Badin district on the exclusion of religious minorities.

The Asia Foundation sponsors a one-day media training workshop in Pakistan’s Badin district on the exclusion of religious minorities.

This year, the Foundation is supporting two local partners: the South Asia Forum for Human Rights (SAFHR) and Intermedia, to help train and educate journalists on covering human rights at the provincial and districts levels. SAFHR has trained 660 district reporters from more than 20 newspapers and news channels. The training, that covered how to report on human rights issues, understand rights framework, and the constitution, was also provided to 40 mid-career journalists in four provincial capitals.

Participants at a media training workshop in Pakistan’s Sanghar district.

Participants at a media training workshop in Pakistan’s Sanghar district.

This week, to acknowledge the courage journalists have demonstrated in extremely hostile and dangerous socio-political environments, the Foundation, in collaboration with Intermedia, recognized five national and district-level journalists for their outstanding reporting on human rights with Human Rights Journalism Awards.

This year’s national winners are: Mr. Rana Mohammad Afzal, national print media award for a story on Pakistan’s Hindu religious minority; and Ms. Naziha Mehmood Ali, national electronic media award for a documentary on street children in Karachi. Vernacular print media winners are: Mr. Mehr Ullah Raisani (Brahawi), Mr. Muhammad Ayub (Pashto), and Mr. Jameel Somroo (Sindhi).

Shahid Fiaz is a Senior Program Manager and Mahvish Innayat  is a Program Officer both in The Asia Foundation’s Pakistan office. They can be reached at sfiaz@asiafound.org and minayat@asiafound.org, respectively.

View all posts by Mahvish Innayat

View all posts by Shahid Fiaz

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