An independent, responsible news media is the cornerstone of any democracy, hence the concept of ‘fourth estate’ or the fourth pillar of the State. Some go as far to say the new media and/or press is the most important component of any democratic structure. Thomas Carlyle was the one of earliest individuals to apply the term to press. He explains it in this book ‘On Heroes and Hero Worship’, “Burke said there were Three Estates in Parliament; but, in the Reporters’ Gallery yonder, there sat a Fourth Estate more important far than they all.”
Media in Pakistan seems to be operating under an illusion of freedom. Be it commercial interests and/or political pressures, media, even with all its rowdiness, remain in chains.
Its said assassination is the worst form of censorship, if so, our country is infested with it. Over the last few years, Pakistan has been declared as ‘the most dangerous country for media practitioners’ by at-least 5 internationally acclaimed media watchdogs. According to Media Matters for Democracy’s data, over 109 journalists have lost theirs lives in the line of duty in past 15 years alone out of which 73 were targeted; identified and shot pointblank. The impunity in these cases is above 90%. Only 4 of these cases have seen convictions in Pakistan.
Media Matters for Democracy’s team has been at the forefront of advocacy on this subject for past many years. Our prime focus has been on the prevailing impunity and the underlaying reasons. We believe one of them is absence of substantial circumstantial evidence, hence subsequently the lack of an effective threat reporting system.
We have found that only 16 out of 73 cases of murder had supporting threat records available, which is to say, the investigative agencies had a lead to follow. We’ve also found that a large majority of 73 murdered media practitioners were under threat and shared it ‘casually’ with their friends and/or family members. Such statements however are not admissible in the court of law, unless these individuals are willing to become a witness. We’ve observed friends and family members tend to back off at this stage and for good reason. There is no concept of witness protection in Pakistan whatsoever. In the case of Hayatullah, a tribal journalist, his wife and brother were killed for pursing his case. Similarly, in the case of Wali Khan Babar, 6 witnesses had to loose their lives.
Currently Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists is perceived as a threat reporting interface for media practitioners which itself operates on an ad-hoc basis. PFUJ also has problems of its own. Its divided in as many as 3 factions and each faction has its favourites (and vice versa) making it impossible for it to stay objective.
To address all this and more, we conceptualised ‘Muhafiz’.
Muhafiz is a semi crowd-sourced digital safety-net for journalists and bloggers designed to supplement existing threat reporting and response structures. Muhafiz works through GSM/Internet (via Muhafiz smart-phone app/web portal) and interfaces those under imminent threat with authorities and support-networks; creating a virtual support-structure. Muhafiz is designed to keep a constant follow-up with the authorities and threats reporters, so as to ensure tangible results. It also an online threat documentation system with due attention to privacy and exposure.
The philosophy behind Muhafiz is ‘technology for social innovation’ and we believe using this framework we can substantially improve the documentation and response on threats to journalists, subsequently reducing impunity.
Design Thinking Workshop is planned to finalise Muhafiz design in partnership with its user-base (journalists from KPK). The event will be hosted at Media Matters for Democracy in partnership with Code for Pakistan and UNESCO and will look to smooth the rough edges of Muhafiz framework.
What: Design Thinking Workshop to Finalise Muhafiz Design
When: 21st November, 2015 at 12 PM
Where: Media Matters for Democracy Office
Note: Registered participants only. Please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org for registration.