Print Media Role in Covering Humanitarian Crisiss

The Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan, FATA, is a territory of 27,220 sq. km (3.4% of the area of Pakistan) located in the middle of a predominantly Pashtun belt, bridging Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa in Pakistan to FATA’s east, with Afghanistan’s north-eastern (Kunar and Nangarhar) and eastern provinces (Khost, Paktika and Paktia) to FATA’s west.  According to the last official census 1998, FATA has more than 3.2 Million populations, which is mostly based in rugged rural villages. In 1895, Mortimer Durand signed an accord with King Abdur Rahman Khan of Afghanistan, partitioning Pashtuns into two separate States. As the accord was signed under duress, it was never accepted by the Pashtuns on both the sides and maintained strained relations between the two States; Pakistan and Afghanistan in Past.

Khyber Agency is one of the seven tribal agencies directly administered by the KP Governor (as representative of the President of Pakistan) through Political Agents under special regulations, Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR). Administratively Khyber Agency is divided into three sub-divisions: Bara, Jamrud and Landi Kotal. These sub-divisions are further divided, i.e. Bara into Bara and Terah Tehsils, Jamrud into Jamrud and Mulagori Tehsils and Landi Kotal into Landi Kotal, Torkhum Bazaar and Zakhakhel Tehsils. Khyber Agency is inhabited by four major tribes, namely: Afridi, Shinwari, Mullagori and Shalmani. The Afridi is the largest tribe in Khyber Agency and it covers about 85% of the total population of the Agency.

Bara is the largest Tehsil of the Agency in both area and population. It is located towards the South, Southwest and West of Khyber Agency bordering Afghanistan on its north, Orakzai Agency towards South, Kurram Agency on the West and Peshawar district on the East. In Bara, five major Afridi sub-tribes are residing.

Conflict Situation Analysis;

Tehsil Bara has home of more than 50% of Afridi tribe population in the Khyber agency. Since the commencement of “War in terror” in 2001 the region gets spotted destination among the local militant to escape Pakistani security hunt down. But their entry to the area not only paved the way for military intervention but also deteriorated the ethnic-social fabric which was maintained before by the harsh Pashtunwali[1] code of life in the area. This serious social rift has resulted violence against the sectarian class of different groups and ultimately giving rise of Lashkar-e-Islam and Ansar-ul-Islam groups which always keep the guns hot.

This very area provides a strategic route to the troubled Tirah valley so to access and control the valley, it is important for the political administration and military units to have full control over Tehsil Bara through support of the local tribes or military arsenals. Alongside development activities, the government started a military operation back in 2009 against the local militant organization to minimize their support base and win over the local populations. Time to time military operations are undertaken in the area against the insurgence challenging the writ of the government. From last couple of years Tehsil BARA remains key area for military operation due to its proximity to the Afghanistan border and stronghold of insurgents in the area.

Since September 2009, continuous emergence of militants and counter military operations has turned the area into permanent battlefield between military and local militants. Aiding complexity to the situation, sectarian violence has also torn apart the social cohesion with its sharp jaws. Due to this wave of extremism in various parts of FATA, we see collateral damage in every walk of life in the tribal areas including infrastructure, health, education, and civic life, etc.

This cat-and-mouse game in the area has adversely affected the local population and thousands of peoples are forced to leave the area in search of shelter and better civic life in the down districts of Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa. According to the data issued by FATA disaster Management Authority (FDMA), more than 374,819 families[2] have migrated to IDPs camps due to escalating conflict in the area. These internally displace people have two options either to settle in the urban areas with their own expenses as, a house guest with the near relatives, friends or who have weak financial status/ no relatives in the urban areas, to settle in the designated IDPs camps in Peshawar and Kohat districts. Inadequate shelter, shortage of food, absence of health care services, lack of education facilities, harsh weather etc. are some of the key restraints to the IDPs life in the designated camps.

The media personnel in FATA are similarly suffered and face many challenges in reporting the miserable life of the IDPs from the BARA region. They are leading their life between the two devils. However, due to their courageous role and series of valuable losses to their families and in person,  they have successfully attracted the attention of national and international Moreover, the absence of law and order in targeted areas, accessibility to substantial news raise questions on the authenticity of the news. . Law and order is not the only reason to distribute unsubstantiated information. Presence of militant and Pakistan Army alongside their control over access, corporate behavior of media outlets, mental stress, personal safety and security play key role in persuading the working journalist to produce favorable news items to avoid the wrath of the interest group or minimize the reporting strength to neglecting level. Being caught in conflicting interest of army and militant, the working journalists groups is opted for “neglected ignorance” to survive in the volatile security region.

Media and Humanitarian Approach;

In the contemporary world, media has an important role to play in the humanitarian crises. They are not only sharing information for the public consumption but also making efforts to help motivate the affected communities not to lose their hearts and to stand up with new resolute  to initiate their life. A healthy media in crisis situation is as significant as provision of basic human needs including safety; food and shelter as it unfold human tragedies alongside   physical requirements. It is media, with flood of information exploring the surroundings and the crux of the matter like, what has happened? What should they do now? Should they stay? Leave? What possible help is available? How far it is?

If the mass media choose to focus massively on a crisis, a number of preconditions have to be fulfilled (Natsios, 1996)[3]. Coverage at different mass media outlets not only helps to generate support for the victims but also pursue the national and international community to devise a policy, fund or framework to minimize the sufferings of the affected population. There is general agreement that the media has the capacity to influence audience attitudes, and that it exerts influence on social life[4]. Lack of information or negatively translated pictures at mass media really pose enormous negative impact at national and international audience which result more sufferings for the crisis-hit peoples. One can easily find such negative impacts in Iraq, Lybia and Afghanistan.

With the rise of electronic media, including social media, print media has witnessed considerable decline in readerships as well as financial resources. But this doesn’t mean they have lost their importance in the public spheres they are still enjoying confidence and reliability from the rural populations of the developing country.

Evolution of Pakistani Media:

In the past seven years the scene of Pakistani media has changed drastically, driven by two large structural changes: the Pakistani government deregulated mass media, allowing privately owned satellite, cable television, FM radio leading to a market for news, information, and entertainment; the rise of mobile telephony and internet access, creating person-to-person and networked media that allow for diverse and complex interactions among Pakistan’s citizenry, and with the rest of the world.

Following many of the same media trends that are evident in other countries, Pakistan’s shift has been notably abrupt due to simultaneity of these changes. The mass media reforms still ongoing in Pakistan occurred in much of the rest of the world in the 1980s and 1990s. The result is a tumultuous, chaotic media, very free in many areas and notably restricted by both formal and informal mechanisms in others. It is a space where grand experimentation coexists with stifled and censored information, where new cultures, media communities and nascent industries seek to define their own goals at the same time that government, law, and the military retain the ability to instrumentalize and manipulate the media on the levels of both infrastructure and content. It is a space where political economies play a significant role in contributing to media growth and in influencing content.

Because of these changes, we can say that Pakistani politics and public life is thoroughly mediated. Media, as in neighboring South Asian countries, are now a key medium through which politics and influence are conducted. It is in Pakistan that the media receive credit for overthrowing a military dictator. It is also Pakistan that has seen the steady increase in harassment, beatings, and killings of journalists with a rare impunity.

The effects of this mediation are especially visible in the course of the war in western Pakistan, the Afghan war, and in the numerous terror attacks in Pakistan’s cities. The wars undoubtedly affect many individuals directly – witness the populations displaced from conflict zones, their entry into other parts of Pakistan and the support they receive from other Pakistanis, or the victims of terror attacks and the security restraints in every major city designed to dissuade them. Beyond those direct effects, however, these conflicts are for Pakistanis also media events, with TV stations vying for the first and most comprehensive coverage of terror attacks, often broadcasting imperfect information in the process. The conflict informs the discourse of the daily news, and colors other key issues in Pakistani political life, from regional autonomy, to the role of the military, to economic development, to international relations, to nuclear power. As a dominant narrative in Pakistani public life, the conflict is a key driver of media consumption.

According to UNESCO Institute of Statistics[5] till year 2005 Pakistan was publishing 291 daily newspapers with an estimated circulation of 8 Million. Despite the 57% literacy[6] and 33% poverty rate[7] in the country society mindset is still shaped by paper media as it’s enjoying deep roots and history in the region. Pakistani print media can be broadly divided into three group’s 1.English newspaper 2.Urdu and 3.regional language newspapers and each one represent different classes of society. English newspaper are mostly enriched with the taste of higher societal group, Urdu case is somehow different as being published in national language it has wider audience in all sections of national society, While the regional language newspaper has minimum audience and geographical limitations too.

Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) has unique position in this entire scenario, there is no significant newspapers publishing from the region but all the national and regional newspaper is coming from outside. Radio channels, like ‘mashal[8]’, ‘dewa[9]’, etc remain the key information source in this volatile security region which has limited absorption capacity for print media products due to 17.42%[10] of literacy level.

Print media plays more significant role than the electronic media when it comes to crisis situation in Pakistan as they are community rooted and enjoy trust of the local populations so they produce quality of information for the local population to consume.

During the last decade Pakistan has experience some deadly natural disaster and armed conflict of its history. In 2005 when massive earthquake[11] hit the northern parts of the country all media outlets turned its attention to the crisis zones and provided regular updates about the changing situations, human sufferings, people needs and also appealed to the nation to provide assistance to the affected communities. Live coverage was maintained for relief and reconstruction activities going on in the earthquake zones which stimulated zeal for revive and hope in the country. Media kept its attitude at the same level when monsoon floods arrived in Pakistan[12], literally washing away 1/5 areas of Pakistan, badly affecting infrastructure and economic resources.

Despite the objectivity in covering various disasters in the country the role and behavior of the media outlets changed when it comes to cover the humanitarian crisis in FATA, especially the Bara Tehsil of Khyber Agency. There are multiple reasons to abstain information regarding this issue and also some good reasons to believe in media for their work regarding highlighting people’s plights.


Print Media Role in the crisis of Khyber Agency;

Khyber agency is key strategic NATO Supply and trade route to Afghanistan. It is also a hub of militant forces active in the region. The conflict and its unique complex nature have confounded the policy makers, think tanks, political administration and security forces to address growing extremism and militancy in the area. Sectarian clashes, ethnic conflicts, money gangster, drug dealers, mafias, and radical militants with deep connections at national and international level are the key conflict drivers for the Agency. Media is highlighting its proximity to the provincial capital Peshawar with different context and scenarios in which militancy, sectarian clashes and military operations are on the top of the list.

Newspapers tend to be the oldest medium of information in the region but this doesn’t necessarily make it most influential as RADIO is playing more prominent role in disseminating information. Khyber Agency is mostly rural rough terrain with low level of literacy and higher poverty rate which limits the option of having its own newspaper published in the region. Leading daily newspaper published from Peshawar, provincial capital of Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa has wider access and audience in the area.

Khyber Agency came into spot light in 2008 when military operations get started in the Agency to root out growing militant arcades in the agency. These targeted operations were marked at the lower level with speedy completion targets, however, the conflict engulfed more areas with the passage of time, introducing more actors and factors making the situation perplex to guess. The situation became so worse that civilians had either to become part of the conflict or to flee the area and get safe location in other parts of FATA and Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa.  The Political administration had to setup camps for them, as the numbers of fleeing families were in thousands and Peshawar City was not in a position to absorb such an influx, where hundred thousand Afghan refugees, affectees of flood 2010 and 2011 and IDPs from other areas are settled. The miserable condition of fleeing families and low capacity of the relief agencies worsened the situation, thus creating extreme humanitarian issue. .

Print Media is responding to this crisis at its best level of analysis. In this study, I have examined level of coverage of leading Urdu and English national in the context of humanitarian issues

Media response to the humanitarian crisis faced by the Khyber Agency IDPs varies from organization to organization and from news to news, it’s the news itself which define its location and weight and supplemented by interest from the local stakeholders. News related to the army atrocities is sidelined most of the time and those committed by the non-State stakeholders are given prime location in the published materials. But the case never ends here, it also create another scene when it comes to individual or group cases which can really generate negative opinion about state institutions are also fall succumb to the greater interest of the person an organizational security.  Newspaper published from provincial capital is giving more weight and lead in respect to those which is published from federal capital and main reason behind is the audience geographical location.

English newspaper like The News International[13], DAWN[14], Express Tribune[15], Frontier post[16] and Urdu newspaper like Daily Express[17], daily Mashriq[18] and daily Aaj[19] are main published dailies which has wider readership share among the literate population of the FATA region. These newspapers have specific reporters covering beat of Khyber Agency and are actively giving spaces and information for the public on different issues pertaining to humanitarian crisis in the region. Examining the last one year published record of these newspapers it’s important to note that they have published daily news about the conflict in one context or the other based on the analysis made by their respective reporters. Following are key areas, highlighted in the news;

  1. Education: Stories were generated in different newspapers about lack of education facilities available to the IDPs in the camps with some more concern with the students entering their secondary school certificate examination. Most of the newspaper published stories regarding education in the month of march as it was exam seasons in the country and school students were supposed to appear in the exam but they were not able in the camp with absence of enrollment policy for outsider in the local educational institutions. Some media sources also highlight difficulties faced by youth in Khyber agency and their enrollment at the local government educational institutions due to difference in academic year timing. Moreover, print media has time and again highlighted literacy ratio, ghost schools, highly condemnable below literacy rate of tribal female, targeting of educational institutions in FATA, especially threats to female educational institutions etc.
  2. 2.      Children: Half of the displaced peoples comprise children and media highlighted pathetic hygienic situation in camps, malnutrition, poor sanitation, polio vaccination to the children. In the ongoing conflict majority of the affectees were children belonging to different age group and media organizations highly publicized targeting of noncombatants, especially children from both the sides. Urdu newspaper has generated appealing stories on this particular issue by interviewing victims’ families and building support of masses for the IDPs fleeing from the area.
  3. 3.      Shelter: Huge number of IDPs influx to the Camps in the suburb of Peshawar city has created more challenges for the government and non-government working agencies to ensure equal and just access to basic amenities, creating a sense of unrest and anger in the displaced family. Their outrage with the obsolete and corrupt institutional mechanism and demand for the basic facilities was another subject widely covered in the local newspaper particularly by the Urdu franchised. Construction of temporary shelter and distribution of tents was also seen at the news pages with the support of non-governmental organization.
  4. Health: It’s the most challenging sector for the local camp administration to deal with as the camps are located outside Peshawar city at wild barren land with no consistent government health facility in close vicinity. The government with the help of humanitarian agencies has established health units inside the camp premises with special focus on new-born babies and mothers to ease the uphill task. Interestingly English newspaper gives more attention to this and has generated numerous stories related to IDPs health facilities, highlighting AIDs cases reported in the camps, mental and psychological problems faced by the conflict victims.
  5. Security: Recent bomb blast incident during food distribution in the Jalozai camp[20] has shifted the media attention to the security needs and concern of both the residing families and working agencies (governmental and non-governmental). Urdu newspapers have given more attention to the subject and developed afterwards stories related to blast victims in the camp and how they are feeling in respect to camp security now.

How IDPs community is looking towards media reporting?

Coverage of issues/crises/ disasters by print media  always remains a hot topic among rural communities of Pakistan especially in Pashtoon society with respect  to their cultural gatherings and Hujra[21] setups. Tribal peoples are more connected to media outlets especially towards Radio channel in respect to the ongoing situation around and in FATA in particular and rest of Pakistan in general. All these radio FMs aired special programme, where the presenter read out the leading and important news headlines from the national and regional newspapers. Main purpose of such news is sharing of information to large audience. Along this radio audience educated peoples are also found reading newspaper and getting into debate with  each other’s  highlighting  various angles, specifically conspiracy theories in the context of the reported news.

I surveyed different Hujra like sitting in the Jalozai camps, local mosques and individual influential of the community, sometimes focused group discussions to know their perceptions about news items reported in the local press related to their miserable life and security situation back at their village[22].

Rehmat Khan, 39, from Bara Khyber Agency says “I don’t believe on news reported about military and militant clash in the local press as the access routes towards the locality are all blocked and you have only to pass through militant or military to come up with this sort of news, which ultimately means its generated by one group to undermine the other or just prepared on assumptions and anecdotes. This personal opinion/news always manipulated by assumptions and guessing keeping in view their own interest”

Zamirey, 18, Tirah valley Khyber Agency was of the view that “I am regularly reading three Urdu leading newspaper and all the time they are talking about difficulties faced by my tribal families in camps but no actions is taken on ground to address it so I still wonder why journalists are talking about, and the only logical explanation I come up as they perform as their duty and make money and really no one is interested in our problems”

Jehangir, 68, a former school teacher from Khyber Agency was looking into it with different angle and he said “Journalists are bound to make stories to earn bread so that’s the easy way to do so. They come here in the camp get few reports from government offices, NGOs, conduct interviews few peoples and next day they publish it to get credit and here the story comes to an end”

Interviewing  people from different localities with different educational and professional background, I found most of them were of the view that “ all this media coverage is just for butter and bread; through such tactics,  the government appeal to international community to earn more funds in the name of IDPs which ultimately goes in their pocket through corruption, while journalist gets “prizes” from local administration for suppressing and manipulating information which can stir public opinion towards their efficiency and effectiveness”.

Some of the IDPs families prayed regards towards the media for highlighting their issues. The problem was minimized and their plight was given attention by the local administration through such coverage. Mr. Haji Naveed, 48, father of 6 children says “it was media who gave us voice to speak to the government and our local political leadership, it was them who spotlighted our difficulties like fleeing from our homes empty handed and escaping for life”. Adding to that Mr Pakha Khan from Tirah valley says “Media is very important factor to our situation as far as the world knows our problem then it will get a chance to be solved but if it is buried here without being unnoticed and unreported then GOD knows what will happen to us”. Supplementing to the opinion Mr. Karram Jan from Bara continued “Media is playing positive role in giving prominence to our life especially dealing the subject of treatment through the hands of militants and military which should be known to the world ‘how cruel they are. I am hoping extended coverage in the media will generate support in favor of us and someday this bloody war will comes to an end peace will return to the region”.

Accessing the situation in the community both positive and negative perceptions existed but one thing is sure both groups acknowledge sacrifices of the journalist for putting their life in risk for a cause.

Government response to news items:

Most of the issues reported in the mainstream media about the humanitarian crises in Khyber agency remained unnoticed due to negligence, bureaucratic hurdles, corruption and incompetency at the government level which has shattered the public confidence on the government institutions ultimately resulting public shift of attention to the local militant to solve their problems. For example the security of food hub was widely covered in the local press again and again; however, no one from security agencies was interested to take corrective measures. After recent bombing during the food distribution hub[23] which kills more than 17 peoples and injuring scores of local population than the security agencies started securing the area for further activities from different aid agencies.

Absence of proper mechanism to enroll different school children was greatly debated in the local English and Urdu press but the FATA secretariat; Provincial disaster management authority and FATA disaster management authority were playing “letter games” towards each other until the deadline passed of the eligible  candidates.

Despite lethargic response, sometime the government machinery show adequate response to the issues highlighted in the local press or by certain individuals.

Most of the time the government did not take into account these report and simply turn them biased and generated for the sole cause to malign the local administration and government agencies. Recent studies conducted by Raabta international consultant has find that “most of the time newspaper are generating biased reports and tickers”[24] which also cast shadows on print media credibility with respect to public services reporting.

Why journalists HIDE Information?

IDPs community were raising questions on the integrity of the reports generated by journalist  and were mainly of the view that these reports are biased and untrue in comparison to the ground realities. During my discussion with different news reporters[25] responsible for covering the Humanitarian Crisis of Khyber Agency  and conflict reporting from FATA they were having some opposite concern while working as journalist in this particular region. Following are the highlighted points, they shared during discussions;

  1. Access to Information: Most of the area in Khyber Agency is controlled either by Military or militants. News generated from this locality will always have element of biasedness as they have to rely on someone to get at least the picture what is happening there? But as journalist they always try to verify the source news from other points and try to accommodate other versions also (local political, military and social stakeholders) to balance the point of view. Due to complexity of conflict factors in the region it always remain debatable how to generate clear and crystal information for the public as well as researcher point of view.
  2. Commercialization: As journalist they are working for different franchise and everyone has their own vested interest, working conditions and methodologies. As an employee they have to take care of the news which has marketability and will definitely avoid news items, having no income generation for their employer. After the media evolution as commercial entity in the last decade every single item is gauged in the prism of market economy.
  3. Security and safety: As FATA journalist, in specific they are in between rock and hard place. They have very limited choice to tick upon it as they are connected to both state run security agencies and elements fighting against security agencies. Interestingly both of them need the journalist to highlight their version of news in the media. They have learnt from the last couple of years when journalists were threatened, tortured and even brutally murdered by both military and militants forcing them to tilt the news reporting towards their interest. This is the most serious factor which is hampering professional journalism in FATA
  4. Lack of Professionals: Most of the media outlets rely on news items produced by the local journalists based in different towns across the FATA. As they are not regular and professional journalist, so most of the time information processed and accessed by them lack professionalism needed in the journalism field especially with respect to covering conflict zones.


Role of the media is very critical when covering conflict zones especially the perplexed situation of FATA need special attention and professionalism both at organizational and individual level to maintain objectivity in the news work shared with the masses. Position of both the reporter and reporting class needs to be understood at the depth before jumping into any conclusion about role of media. All the stakeholders need their support and one has to be highly professional in maintaining ethics of clean reporting avoiding any confrontation.

Complex emergency situation is creating different humanitarian crisis in the region which needs special attention and care with renewed approach and tools to gauge the plight of their life. These communities are different from each other in respect to their exposure to conflict. The way anthropogenic disasters hits targeted areas, the consequences may not be same in all areas.

FATA security landscape is too alarming for the working journalist in terms of their security and safety and one can understand the hidden fear in their professional work when it comes to report on the humanitarian crisis going inside the wall of Khyber agency, FATA.

[1] Pashtunwali, “the way of the Pashtuns” – Page 3 Accessed on May 5, 2013

[3] Natsios, A. 1996, “Illusions of Influence: the CNN effect in complex emergencies”, in Rotberg, R.I. & T.G. Weiss (eds.), From Massacres to Genocide. The Media, Public Policy and Humanitarian Crises, The Brooking Institutions: Washington D.C, pp. 149-168.

[4] Corner 2000:379 in Igglesden 2002: 21; Kuensel 4 February 2006:2; Rozumilowicz 2002 in McConnell & Becker 2002:11; Kuenselonline 19 February 2005

[11] Accessed on May 5, 2013, Government Portal detailing all information about Earthquake relief, reconstruction and rehabilitation.

[20] Accessed on May 5, 2013

[21] Drawing room located outside the house for guests and public sitting also called Mehman Khana (Guest Room)

[22] For the sake of individual security All names used in the following lines are not real

[25] Again due to security reasons journalists names are not mentioned especially dealing the FATA beat

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