Pakistani Journalist’s Death Raises Questions About Safety

The death of a 40-year-old television personality while on assignment in Pakistan has raised concerns about the safety of journalists there, the work conditions they face and the risks they take to get the story.

Sadaf Naeem, a broadcast journalist for Lahore city’s Channel 5, was killed on Sunday as she was covering a convoy taking former Prime Minister Imran Khan from Punjab province to Islamabad for a political march.

Her funeral and burial were Monday in Lahore.

Witnesses say Naeem was trying to climb onto a container truck carrying Khan when she apparently lost her footing and fell to the ground, where she was crushed. Khan expressed condolences to Naeem’s family.

Although the exact cause of the fatal fall is still not known, journalists and experts are voicing concerns about the challenging conditions in which many Pakistani journalists work, at times without proper training or safety equipment, or in hostile environments.

In an interview with VOA, Naeem Bhatti, the journalist’s husband, called his wife’s death an accident and made the decision to forgo a postmortem.

Naeem’s family and friends described her death as a “personal loss of a young and vibrant journalist.”

The Pakistani federal government and the provincial government announced that Naeem’s family will be financially compensated but that no investigation into her death will be conducted because her death was reported as an accident.

Prominent journalist Mazhar Abbas said, however, that though it is imperative to thoroughly investigate Naeem’s death, it is also important to look into the circumstances that lead journalists to work in dangerous situations without being adequately prepared.

“Although some of the media organizations do provide some basic safety training to the journalists, all media organizations should ensure safety training for their employees,” he said. “There have been several incidents in the past of journalists losing their lives” or being physically harmed while reporting from the field.

Iqbal Khattak, the head of Freedom Network, a Pakistan-based media watchdog, stated, “We must know the reasons that caused her death and whether there were suitable security precautions for the journalists who were covering the lengthy march.”

According to Freedom Network’s data, since 1990 more than 140 journalists have been killed, and 65% of those victims were targeted. The organization’s findings also show that in recent years, many journalists lost their jobs after criticizing government policies.

Khattak added that journalists need to be told “loud and clear” that they should take all requisite precautions while covering any events and incidents.

In December 2021, Pakistan passed a landmark law — the Protection of Journalists and Media Professionals Act — to ensure the safety of journalists. The law is intended to offer a safety mechanism for journalists, but according to Khattak, it has not yet been put into effect because the commission that is supposed to supervise the law’s application has not been established.

This story originated in VOA’s Urdu service.

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