Media Representation of Balochistan

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Balochistan is Pakistan’s biggest province in terms of its geographical mass and its least populated federal unit. It is replete with rich natural resources i.e. gold, copper, natural gas and abundant untapped supplies of uranium and oil along with innumerable other minerals. It is around 600 miles long coastal belt places at the top of geopolitical sweet spot, adding to its strategic importance.

Unlike the rest of the country, Balochistan has to grapple with an acute dearth of media representation. A steady stream of news stories emanating from Balochistan are invariably tinged with parochial bias and exhibit a myopic understanding of the province and its people. The very lack of media representation in the province has alienated it for so long and, consequently, people proffer their own skewed viewpoints that are miles away from the truth.

The worsening law and order situation in the province and its multiple attendant evils have ensured the province is bereft of the kind of representation it deserves and is left without a voice. Miscreants with the connivance of foreign forces have sought to destabilize the country through a calibrated sponsorship of handful of insurgents against the state in Balochistan.

These nefarious forces are hard at work to foster ill will within the province and are bent upon actively sowing discontent through their calculated media smear campaigns. Quite regretfully, international media, instead of seeking the truth through responsible journalism, relies on reports from dubious sources that paint a lopsided version of the picture while missing the whole truth. This is made possible, to a large extent, due to the paucity of reliable news sources within the province.

Moreover, this lack of genuine media representation has perpetuated a myth that Balochistan is a media black hole with minimum access to foreign media where journalists face restrictions at every step of the way. This line of reasoning is totally specious and without merit as the province has been convulsing in the throes of systematic instability campaigns triggered by foreign forces.  This is no more just a theory, but a well substantiated fact corroborated by the arrest of Indian secret agent Kulbhushan Sudhir Jadhave. He had taken the pseudonym Hossein Mubarak for intelligence gathering and terrorism purposes in Balochistan as he explained in a confessional video releases by Inter Services Public Relations. The precarious security situation in the province coupled with a sectarians’ outfits targeting minorities and vicious campaigns sponsored by foreign elements have made the province a less desirable destination for journalists.

Another important factor to consider is that the mainstream news media is a corporate industry that runs on advertisements, more than on ethical and rightful journalism, which other provinces can afford to provide and gain recognition in return with the help of their private sectors. Punjab and Sindh, for instance, have huge private sectors which encourage entrepreneurship inducing skills in their youths. The small businesses not only grow to become conglomerates but also reduce unemployment, becoming a good source of income to generate advertisements. However, Balochistan has been unsuccessful in developing its private sector and rely completely on the government, failing to even support its own local channels.

The road ahead is to establish private industry in the province and seek entrepreneurial support from the Government of Balochistan. The ill-conceived myths about Balochistan should be busted by promoting responsible journalism. Responsible reporting from conflict areas is at the core of journalistic rigor. It sticks with standards of absolute objectivity in news coverage and takes concrete steps to cancel out individual or communal bias. Journalistic ethics are never to be compromised for the sake of sensational news items aimed at impressionable minds and susceptible foreign press.

Additionally, higher educational institutions need to introduce academic disciplines in the curriculum that are at par with the emerging trends in journalism and that promote professionalism and journalistic ethics. News content editors, in collaboration with media regulatory authority of the country, need to find the means to navigate the tough terrain of journalistic rigor while avoiding the pitfalls of sensational reporting in the era of cutthroat mass media.

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Leena Shah Mir is a freelance analyst from Gwadar, Balochistan.

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