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Guerrilla Journalism: Reporting from Pakistan

SNA (Tokyo) — In Episode 1 of Guerrilla Journalism, the SNA speaks with freelance journalist Muhammad Toori about the conditions and risks of reporting from Pakistan.

Michael Penn: Welcome to Guerrilla Journalism. The show which takes you to the frontiers of the global news media industry. Our guest today is Mr. Muhammad Toori. He is a freelance journalist based in Karachi, Pakistan, and he has worked with such news organizations as the Huffington Post, TRT World, Press TV, CNBC Pakistan, among some others. He is here to talk to us today about the overall conditions of freelance journalism in his home country of Pakistan. We spoke to him a while ago by Skype and we are going to show you some highlights from the interview. Mr. Toori, can you tell us what are the main kinds of video cameras and other news equipment used by freelance journalists and other journalists in Pakistan these days?

Muhammad Toori: So, initially they were using PD cameras, Sony cameras, and then they started experimenting on some other brands, like JVC and Panasonic. But initially, Sony was the prominent gadget which you can see in the hand of every broadcast journalist here.

Michael Penn: Beyond the ENG cameras that you mentioned, are there any other kinds of special equipment which are coming into use now.

Muhammad Toori: The next big thing here are drones. They are using Phantom 3, Phantom 4 and Mavic Pro, but there are some issues regarding the licensing and piloting drones in sensitive areas where there is a possibility of getting rounded up by law enforcement agencies here. There are some issues, but videographers are trying to push the bar a little further.

Michael Penn: How about the transportation situation? How is it that you get from your office to the various news sites. When you do go out there, what kind of equipment do you carry. Are you packed heavy or packed light? What’s the situation?

Muhammad Toori: We have traffic issues, and to avoid those traffic issues, the swift approach is using two wheelers instead of using four wheelers. We don’t use cars, actually. Most of the videographers use motorbikes to reach their location. They can reach their locations easily and swiftly. The other thing that you asked was about gadgets. We move with a backpack and a tripod and with as little as we can. We try to [lighten] our kits so we reach the location and do as much as we can with that particular [light] kit because of the run and gun situation that we may face. Sometimes it is because of the protest, because of the law enforcement agencies. If they resort to violence, to baton charge the protestors, or to tear gas them, of course, in that situation, we are on our own.

Michael Penn: In a country like Pakistan, where does freelance journalism and international journalism fit in to the overall landscape?

Muhammad Toori: There was one very important thing that differentiates the local journalists and international journalists for some particular stories. For example, the sectarian story, there was a collective passiveness from the newsroom in Pakistan. The only way you could break that passiveness was to break that news before them and break it to the international media. The moment you break it to the international media, there is a pressure ball that becomes bigger and bigger for them. Because of that pressure ball, I always witness that they jump to the story.

Michael Penn: When you’re reporting your stories, what is the situation on the ground for freelance journalists.

Muhammad Toori: From the freelance perspective, as you know, freelancers mostly go to neighborhoods alone, so they actually pose a relatively bigger risk of attacks compared to the teams moving in a DSNG (Digital Satellite News Gathering), although the teams were also attacked.

Michael Penn: Can you tell us a little bit more about that. About the physical security for journalists working in Pakistan.

Muhammad Toori: For example, there were days when international journalists–anybody from Al-Jazeera or from big news outlets like CNN—won’t come to Pakistan unless they have good insurance. I’m talking about their staffers. If they’re coming to Pakistan they have good insurance. Not just in Pakistan, but any war zone. I would call it a war zone because there is a terrorism fight going on in Pakistan. They’re not different. In the case of international journalism or freelance journalism, maybe [the international journalists] are making more money as compared to the local media outlets, but the risk that is involved with it [is the same.] For example, I got a call from an international television organization saying that there was a driver [of a van] coming back from the Iranian border with the chief of the Taliban, who became chief after Mullah Omar. That particular van was targeted by a US drone when it was in the Pakistani borders. It is a very remote area and the way they were bargaining on the logistic money due to which I actually dropped that assignment made it very evident to me how much they value the journalists’ lives, particularly the freelance journalists, who are stepping into uncharted territories in the danger zone without proper insurance and risking their lives for catching the good stories.

Michael Penn: So I understand that some freelance journalists and other journalists are actually being killed in Pakistan. What’s the situation there?

Muhammad Toori: One of my good friends, Wali Babar, lost his life while reporting from the streets of Karachi. The neighborhood where he reported from was not far away from me. When he went back to his office, he filed the story on that situation on that day. When he was coming back, he was gunned down by two motorbike riders who were following him from his office.

Michael Penn: When you consider the high risks to your personal safety and the relatively poor conditions in terms of pay and other kinds of security, why is it that you consider being a freelance journalist in Pakistan.

Muhammad Toori: Narrating a particular narrative, telling a story about those people that I care about, and the stories that I care about is something close to my heart. This is not just something I’m doing for a living.

Michael Penn: Reporters Without Borders ranks Pakistan 139 out of the world’s 180 countries. Obviously, this is a rather low ranking. In fact, Pakistan, for an Asian country, has a relatively open media system, but as Mr. Toori explained, physical attacks on journalists do occur there rather frequently. These sometimes come from radical groups and other times from intelligence agencies, which makes it a rather perilous place to work for journalists and, especially, freelance journalists. Thank you for joining us for our inaugural episode of Guerrilla Journalism. We’ll be back very soon with new guests and new topics.

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