The future of Pak-Afghan media cooperation by Ayesha Hasan & Farkhonda Rajabe

ISLAMABAD:Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Minister for Information Mian Iftikhar Hussain recently met the management of Shamshad TV, one of the largest Afghan TV channels, and assured it that he would contact the the federal government as well as the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) to allow for landing rights to the channel in Pakistan.

However, launching foreign channels in Pakistan has always been a difficult call. Former Pemra director general Rana Altaf Majeed claims that it was during his tenure that Tolo TV, an Afghan TV channel, was refused landing rights in Pakistan.

Deeming the broadcast to be “Against the national interests of Pakistan”, Majeed revealed that he still opposes the broadcasting of Afghan TV channels. “We cannot take this risk. The negative images of Pakistan shown by Afghan or Indian media are detrimental to Pakistan,” he said, adding that “we cannot bring foreign media to Pakistan without clearance from security and intelligence agencies.”

Journalists working in Pakistan and Afghanistan have been facing problems in accessing information from across the border. Therefore, they are dependent on foreign media and second-hand information.

Government verses journalists

Despite a law which allows free access to information for all citizens, journalists in Afghanistan have been facing difficulties in doing so.

Harun Najafizada, an Afghan correspondent for Persian TV with the British Broadcasting Corporation, said that journalists in Afghanistan and Pakistan were dependent on foreign agencies, since it was increasingly difficult to elicit information from local government ministries. Interestingly, Najafizada agreed that the Afghan embassy was generous in giving information to journalists.

Zardasht Shams, Press Attache at the Afghanistan embassy in Islamabad, confirmed this, saying that they cooperated with journalists from both sides of the Pak-Afghan border in order to avoid the consequences of misrepresentation.

Sanjar Sohail, the chief editor of Hasht-i-Subh, one of the biggest Afghan newspapers, says his correspondents had never had access to raw information. This, he says, leads to availing second-hand sources. Furthermore, Sohail said Pakistan has a ‘bad reputation’ in Afghanistan, which consequently prevents reporters from going there.

However, Information Ministry’s External Publicity Wing Director General Samina Parvez denies the problems and challenges faced by foreign journalists in Pakistan. “Currently, more than 200 foreign correspondents are working in Pakistan. They normally do not face any problems in accessing information or ID cards if they follow the procedure,” she said. Parvez also claims that Pakistani media is the “freest media in the world” with quite lenient media laws.

Journalists on both sides of Durand Line are facing difficulties owing to the dearth of direct information sources. ILLUSTRATION: JAMAL KHURSHID

However, she added it was mandatory to be a Pakistani national to get landing rights for a TV channel.

Learning from American journalists

Talking about the journalists’ dependency on agency reports, South Asian Media School Director Khaled Ahmed said that Pakistani media lacked correspondents in Afghanistan and vice versa. There are some information sources in the conflict zones, but these fall under the threat of the terrorists, according to him.

“Information conveyed under threat is unreliable,” said Ahmed. He added that American sources are reliable because American journalists are paid enough to visit conflict-hit areas and write knowledgably about Afghanistan and Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) on websites owned by American universities. While journalists like Farhat Taj escape to foreign universities, those like Saleem Shehzad and Januallah Hashimzada have been killed (or allegedly killed) by “agencies interested in masking reality”.

Journalists continue to face challenges in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. The only way out is if the governments of either country allow exchange of information and broadcast of its respective TV channels across the borders.

This report was written during the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Af-Pak Fellowship 2012 in collaboration with The Express Tribune

Published in The Express Tribune, July 23rd, 2012.

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