After working for a few days with The Press of Atlantic City I realized that reporters of the regional press in the U.S. are by and large least exposed to the experience of conflict reporting unlike those filing reports from Afghanistan and tense areas of Pakistan. As such, they face far less challenges than reporters who cover issues related to militancy and military operations in close proximity of the warring sides.
Visiting colleges, police stations, casinos, food outlets and other such places for bringing a story could be a fun, but filing a report from the field on issues involving two warring sides is not an easy job.
Conflict-sensitive reporting, especially in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) bordering Afghanistan, has exposed the local correspondents to serious dangers, as mismanaging sensitive information at times could prove fatal and one has to be aware of the concerns of all the stakeholders.
Besides, writing important reports from the field needs connections and both language and professional skills, but majority of local correspondents in areas bordering Afghanistan have never practiced journalism in big cities or main departments such as reporting and newsroom of even their own respective organization.
I have worked as copy editor with four different English newspapers in Pakistan during last about 17 years and found that media groups give more facilities to journalists in urban centers such as Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad while ignoring the welfare and concerns of correspondents in far off places. Also, media groups in major cities are very strong while the regional newspapers, mostly in local languages, are weak in terms of the issues they raise and their influence or popularity.
Though caring for the security of their correspondents should be the responsibility of the media organizations, they even fail to pay them commensurate to the risks involved in their job. As a result, the profession of journalism is compromised and the journalists tend to work as "embedded" - the word coined during the Iraq war - mainly to safeguard the interests of the dominant force and extract benefits.
And those who dare to break stories face the consequences. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, as many as seven journalists have been killed in Pakistan during 2011, ranking the country as "the deadliest for journalists".
Unlike in the U.S., common Pakistani journalists face all sorts of problems - no trainings, no salary structure and to some extent no personal or job security.
In such a situation, it is the rule of ‘might is right' that governs the flow of information from the conflict areas. Side by side some journalists working in city centers far away from the conflict areas are writing their own "assessments" for the local and foreign media only because they are hired and have to write something matching the policy of their organizations.
Though Pakistan has lost over 3,000 members of the security forces besides about 35,000 civilians and its economy, tourism sector and social life of people suffered greatly in fighting the U.S.-led war on terrorism, the international media organizations mostly portray the major U.S. ally in negative light. While this may be serving the U.S. interests such media hype most of the times create difficulties for the Pakistani government to efficiently work as part of the anti-terrorism alliance.
During the last about 10 years of the war on terrorism the militants, angry at the government's support to the U.S., had destroyed hundreds of schools and hospitals in the FATA, military operations displaced thousands of people and scores of innocent tribesmen were killed in drone attacks, but hardly any mainstream news organization has bothered to file a comprehensive report on the people's plight and human rights.
As such it could be said that media, both foreign and local, in Pakistan has not been successful to take care of the people's rights and listen to their voices for help while reporting on issues related to the conflict areas.
While there will be complete record of the key militants killed in drone attacks, it is a matter of concern that no media or other organization has tried to record civilian deaths, which are said to be about 10 times higher than the militants' casualties. Common Pakistani people believe that most of civilian deaths are dubbed by local and foreign media organizations as "suspected militants" killed in "suspected drone attacks".
This tells the story of how subservient the media could be in conflict areas and how the ‘embedded journalists', in case of Pakistan not sufficiently trained and secured, could ignore the basic rights of the people only to be the part of the ‘information war'.
Hamid Ur Rehman is a journalist from Pakistan, where he works with an English daily Dawn, Islamabad, as sub-editor. He will work at The Press of Atlantic City in partnership with the ICFJ till Nov 28 as part of the US-Pakistan Professional Partnership Program for Journalists - a U.S.-funded program aimed at giving Pakistani journalists first-hand knowledge and working experience of international journalism while also helping the host paper learn more about Pakistan.