Asma Shirazi’s award acceptance speech

Asma-Shirazi

Asma Shirazi speaks during the 2014 Peter Mackler Award ceremony at the National Press Club in Washington D.C on Oct 23. Photo: AFP/Paul Richards.

Distinguished ladies and gentlemen

It’s a great honor for me to be the recipient of the 2014 Peter Mackler Award for Courage and ethical journalism.

It’s indeed a privilege to be the first Pakistani journalist to win this award from across the world in the year 2014.

Awards, no doubt, are always recognition of your endeavors and professional commitments; a source of encouragement which boosts your energy levels, and a drive that enkindles new fire inside you to steer into new challenges.

But I dedicate this award to the unsung heroes of journalism in Pakistan, who sacrificed their lives for the cause of their profession. I also dedicate this award to our journalists of remote areas like FATA, Waziristan and Baluchistan, who are doing their utmost while endangering their lives every spur of the moment.

I am grateful to Allah Almighty, my family, friends and the organizations I worked with, for their utmost support in my career.

This award is also an opportunity to raise my voice against brutalities that journalists in Pakistan are subjected to. I expect this award will promote the true meaning of “courage” and “Ethical Journalism” in Pakistan. The “Courage” which is never adventurism and the “Ethics” that is widely in question now days in Pakistan.

I would like to give you a brief outline of the kind of difficulties that Pakistani journalists have been facing over the years and the enormous sacrifices they have been making, and continue to make.
Between 2002 and 2012, a total of 609 journalists were killed across the world, according to a UNESCO report. Nearly 10% of these journalists were from Pakistan.

Pakistan currently has over 18,000 journalists. In the year 2000, there were less than 2,000 journalists in Pakistan.

Between the years 1947 and 1999 a total of 12 journalists were killed for their work in Pakistan, according to Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists. This is an average of one journalist killed every 4.4 years in this period.

Between the period January 2000 and October 2014 a total of 99 journalists have been killed in the line of duty in Pakistan, according to Pakistani media watchdog Freedom Network. This is an appalling average of one journalist killed every 44 days in this period.

Of these 99 journalists killed, at least 66 were target killings and shot dead at close range. Another eight were kidnapped before being killed. Of these eight, three were brutally tortured. Another three were beheaded. Another 14 were killed in suicide bombings while they were in the field reporting.

Pakistan has a poor record of catching and punishing the killers of its journalists. Between 2000 and 2014, the killers of only one Pakistani journalist – Wali Khan Babar – have been identified and sentenced. Both killers are absconding. The families of the other 98 journalists still await justice.
In 2012, the United Nations launched the global “UN Action Plan on Journalists’ Safety and Impunity Issues” naming five pilot countries for its urgent implementation aimed at combating impunity against journalists. Pakistan is one of the pilot countries.

Pakistani journalists have to contend with difficult working conditions, unsafe field environments, lack of training and resources on safety and inadequate security arrangements. Often a lack of focus on ethical journalism also lands journalists in severe danger.

Pakistani journalists face danger from various threat actors who range from government functionaries, political parties, security forces, intelligence agencies, militants, terrorists, religious leaders, sectarian groups, landlords and even business groups.

Despite these dangers and difficult times, Pakistani journalists continue unabated with the task at hand – to give voice to the voiceless, to speak truth to power and to tell the everyday stories of our lives.

I would like to thank you once again for awarding me this prize. I accept it in the hope that it will raise the profile of Pakistan’s courageous journalists who have never shied away from paying the price for truth, courage and sacrifice.

Thank you Peter Mackler Award. Thank you AFP. Thank you Reporters without Borders, the board, the jury for giving me this honor. Thank you Catherine, Camille, Lauren for your all your support. Thank you friends, thank you everyone.