Untitled Document
Untitled Document
Media Training Workshop on Human Rights Reporting
Social media is influencing mainstream media’s approaches on human rights reporting

Published: February 10, 2015



While lack of proper training and education and presence of an assortment of threats and constraints for journalists working in mainstream media hinder their ability and capacity to progressively report, analyze or provide the follow-up of incidents of human rights abuses, social media has created new prospects on highlighting such incidents and creating awareness among people. These views were expressed by media practitioners and experts who participated in a one-day training workshop on “Human Rights Reporting,” jointly organized by Pak Institute for Peace Studies and the Canadian High Commission in Islamabad on February 3, 2015.

Around 40 journalists from across Pakistan’s four provinces and FATA attended the workshop. The trainers included Zafarullah Khan, head of Center for Civic Education, Islamabad, Aoun Sahi, senior reporter based in Islamabad, Afzal Butt, president of Federal Union of Journalists, and Shahzada Zulfiqar, senior journalist based in Quetta. Senior journalist and anchorperson Nasim Zehra also shared her experiences of human rights reporting as the guest speaker.

Zafarullah Khan described at length the evolution of the concepts of human rights and fundamental rights, and Pakistani people’s and media’s understanding of these concepts. He also described the difference between human rights and fundamental rights as the former being those given to a person after his/her birth and the latter being those rights that are written in the legal framework of a state and which the state promises to provide to every citizen. He raised questions on the effectiveness of Ministry of Human Rights and some other specialized organizations in Pakistan with similar objectives such as National Commission on Status of Women, Child Rights Commission and Minorities Rights Commission etc. He was of the view that Pakistani media and journalists can put pressure on the government and its institutions to protect human rights by effectively reporting and following up the incidents of violations of human rights. He stated that even though most cases of rights abuses are reported ‘with red tickers and breaking news banners’, these are not properly followed up by journalists and news organizations, which is why the ineffective nature of our legal system in providing people with justice does not come into light. He said a number of cases of human rights violations are not even reported for reasons such as political pressure and journalists’ personal biases, etc.

Afzal Butt identified the human rights violations being perpetrated by journalists themselves such as by invading privacy of civilians whose stories they want to publish and by trying to get adequate shots of the people injured in an attack rather than providing them with first aid. He said that it is vital to train journalists on human rights reporting so that they can effectively report incidents of violations of human rights as well as respect the rights of ordinary citizens when investigating or interviewing them. He said while journalists need to practice professional and ethical responsibility, media houses should also take adequate measures to ensure best, progressive journalistic practices in the country.

Mr. Shahzada Zulfiqar reiterated Mr. Afzal’s stance on the importance of training reporters and said that the journalists/correspondents operating on the level of districts should also be properly trained not just to ensure quality and accuracy of their stories on human rights abuses but also to protect their own lives. Also, he noted, the journalists sitting in the news rooms should be trained in different aspects of human rights reporting and analysis. He said the trend of journalists following ‘policies’ of owners of media houses is a practice too bad for professional journalism and that should be abolished. Apart from that journalists should also learn about how to disassociate themselves from personal and social biases while reporting, analyzing incidents of human rights violations.

Aoun Sahi, while discussing the lack of training given to reporters across Pakistan, stated that he has been working in one of Pakistan’s biggest media organization for over 12 years but was never given a single formal training on reporting. He said that while reporting a story it is important for a reporter to convince himself as to whether it is right to report that story in the manner that he/she is doing. Furthermore, when we are interviewing a victim of a certain human rights violation, we need to ask ourselves as to what questions are adequate to be asked from the victim. It is important because at a number of times, a reporter takes up the task of an interrogator which is not just wrong on a human level but also goes against the ethics of professional journalism.

Naseem Zehra counted a number of pressures and threats being faced by journalists reporting human rights across Pakistan, most of which come from political administration, feudal lords, and law enforcement agencies etc. She further said that in today’s digital age, your story does not entirely depend on your editor. If you see something happening, you can tweet about it from your personal twitter page and your editor would not have control over what you have to say which is how you can get your message across. There have also been cases in which editors did not pick up stories and reporters wrote about it in social media. After those stories became highly popular in the social media, they were automatically picked up by editors and published in their newspapers. Dynamics of journalism have changed over the past few years with the technological revolution and we should make best use of it.


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