Where is the Media Coverage of Balochistan?
UNPO and the Society for Threatened Peoples hosted a parallel event on Thursday [15th September 2011] at the 18th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council titled ‘Climate of Fear: Enforced Disappearances, Extra-judicial Killings, and Arbitrary Detention in Balochistan’. Immediately prior to the event, UNPO and the Baloch community in Europe participated in a demonstration calling attention to the human rights situation in Balochistan. […]
The event, chaired by UNPO Programme Coordinator Lisa Thomas, drew attention to the disturbing level of enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings currently ongoing in Balochistan, Pakistan, as noted by recent extensive reports from Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP). Ms. Thomas expressed UNPO’s deep concern about the deteriorating situation in Balochistan before highlighting a few key points from the two reports. Of particular note according to Ms. Thomas is HRCP’s discovery of strong evidence indicating the complicity of Pakistan’s security forces in the enforced disappearances and killings that HRW calls a “disturbingly regular feature” of the conflict in Balochistan.
If ever there was a place ripe for citizen media, it is Balochistan. The citizens of Balochistan occupy one of the most strategically important (to NATO, Pakistan, and sundry other powers in the neighborhood) regions on earth. Flush with natural gas and enormous mineral wealth, the province is exploited by an inattentive central government while almost no resources are shared or returned to residents. Allegations continuously surface of a direct Pakistani military and intelligence service role in the kidnapping, torture, and murder of Baloch activists, dissidents, and separatists.
And yet Balochistan, and the plight of its citizens, is virtually non-existent in the media ecosystem. Typing “Balochistan” into Google News reveals a paltry 1,180 results, compared with 25,200 for Pakistan and 27,500 for Afghanistan.
This cannot be explained simply as a reflection of the international media’s focus on the conflicts in Afghanistan and Pakistan, as both are wholly entangled with the issues in Balochistan. The Afghan Taliban are referred to as the “Quetta Shura,” named for their supposed base in Balochistan’s capitol city of Quetta. And Pakistan’s ISI, those accused of supporting terrorism and insurgents in the region, are the same intelligence services supposedly victimizing the Baloch population. There is simply no reason for the media to ignore the situation in Balochistan.
That’s where citizen media comes in to play. Citizens of Balochistan should be empowered to tell their own story. As of now their only outlet for stories lies either through international civil society organizations, such as Human Rights Watch, or through local activist or nationalist organizations with questionable motivations and interests.
Balochs should be given the equipment, training, and capacity to produce high impact journalism through whatever medium is available; video, radio, SMS, etc. Baloch voices would provide locals with the crucial information they need from their media, while also bringing the sophistication and local context needed to properly inform the international community.
Citizen media is generally small in scale (think blogs or Youtube videos), but a concentrated effort on building a vibrant citizen media community within Balochistan could then be grown into a fully-functioning, respectable, and sustainable independent news agency. This would require resources and attention from the international community, something Balochistan currently lacks, but a small spark from citizen media can quickly engulf the attention of the rest of the world (as seen in Iran, Egypt, and elsewhere).
What are some of the other ways that the critical issues at stake in Balochistan can be highlighted, understood, and responded to within the media?