Shahid Rehmat (right), executive director of the Youth Development Foundation, addresses journalists at the workshop at Lahore Press Club on March 5. (Photo: Shahid Rehmat)
Racism and threats from extremists are major challenges in highlighting religious minorities in Pakistan, say Muslim journalists. “Media houses are attacked after publishing news on religious minorities. Eyewitnesses in persecution cases are always on the run. The courts fail to provide them protection. Interfaith policies have been repeatedly ignored in our constitution,” said Qammar Jabbar, a reporter for Aaj News channel. “Freedom of expression is only reserved for the majority. Muslims can openly speak about Christianity but Christians cannot discuss Islam. Our superiority complex has made us racists.” He was speaking at a recent consultative workshop on the formulation of a “Harmonious, Tolerant and Safe Punjab for Everyone” policy. Similar concerns were shared by more than 30 media persons at Lahore Press Club. Ejaz Alam Augustine, minister of human rights and minorities affairs and interfaith harmony, launched the project in January in partnership with the Youth Development Foundation (YDF). Since then, consultations have been held with parliamentarians, religious leaders and youth representatives.
Mubasher Bukhari, YDF policy consultant, urged journalists against using derogatory terms for non-Muslims. “It is common in our newspapers to refer to Hindus as Baniya, Christians as Isai and Ahmadis as Qadianis. Balanced reporting can help in promoting the feelings of equality, harmony, peace and tolerance,” he said. The workshop ended with recommendations including diversity camps for journalists, inclusion of interfaith harmony as a school subject, establishment of interreligious committees in union councils and an early-warning response system for minorities. Church leaders say minorities are often overlooked in Pakistan’s mainstream media. According to a study by the Institute for Research, Advocacy and Development released last year, media coverage of Pakistan’s non-Muslim population is stereotypically linked to sensitive themes like blasphemy. The “Narratives of Marginalization” study, based on analysis of 12 Pakistani media outlets, claimed that minorities were reported as sanitary workers, slum dwellers, bootleggers, domestic workers and victims of discrimination or forced conversions. Non-Muslim journalists only comprised 1.3 percent of about 20,000 journalists in Pakistan’s media industry, it stated. According to the 1998 census, Christians constitute 1.59 percent, Hindus 1.60 percent, Ahmadis 0.22 percent and scheduled castes 0.25 percent of Pakistan’s population.
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