“I joined the media to report on issues like lack of education, health, living facilities in Balochistan, etc. but had to report more on bomb blasts, target killings and other types of violent incidents happening in Quetta and the rest of Balochistan since the last couple of years,” says Ghalib Nehad, a Quetta-based journalist working for Dawn TV.
Nehad adds, “Many journalists have already been killed in Balochistan while performing their duties. Seeing the danger and what happened to many journalists in the province, it is incredibly difficult to remain focused on the job, owing to mental stress.”
Journalism can be a rewarding profession if its practitioners are driven by the sense that they are part of something greater than themselves. But a profession whose practitioners kill stories, chase deadlines and run towards burning buildings can only be one that operates on a steady diet of stress.
The Centre for Excellence in Journalism (CEJ) laid the foundation for conducting free therapy sessions for journalists in 2018. Under this initiative, 107 journalists from across Pakistan received counseling of over 600 hours up to June 2021.
According to the report of CEJ, among the journalists who participated in the therapy sessions, 45 percent reported panic and anxiety, 22 percent depression, 14 percent loss of confidence, 13 percent stress, 6 percent anger and the remaining 22 percent other problems and issues for mental health.
Bisma Afzal, media graduate from Sardar Bahadur Khan Women’s University, says that journalism in Balochistan is becoming a challenge day by day, even though journalists hardly dare to push boundaries and rarely write and report independently. They are still forced to accept the reality of threats from the deep state, political parties and other pressure groups as they strive to fulfil their journalistic duties bravely. For these reasons, in Balochistan, free reporting is a challenge and new graduates are avoiding joining the media.
Another graduate of the Sardar Bahadur Khan Women University Quetta, Nimra Akram, says that there are various security issues that prevent many graduates from entering the media in Balochistan. She says that she is eager to further her career and is looking for work in the media, but in a safe and secure place where she can work without worry or anxiety.
Young media graduates in Balochistan experience emotional strain: many graduates say that they would rather work in other fields than the media in order to avoid the risks associated with the job. “When there are so many killings of journalists, it is incredibly difficult to put oneself forward. I don’t believe I can ever join this profession in Balochistan, as journalists often get targeted here for just doing their job,” says Tabish Ali, a recent graduate from the University of Balochistan.
Nine universities of Balochistan offer courses in media and journalism. According to the data provided by Director General (Scholarships) / Public Information Officer at the Higher Education Commission (HEC), while responding to a request under the Right to Information Act, in 2021, 45 students from the University of Balochistan, Quetta, including 37 men and 8 women, graduated in the field of mass communications and 25 students graduated in the same field from the Sardar Bahadur Khan Women University.
Mujeeb Ullah, reporter for Samaa TV in Quetta, says: “Working in a terror-hit region like Balochistan has severely affected me mentally. Journalists are an easy target, as we have to cover both sides of the story, we feel vulnerable all the time. Every day, I feel like I am walking towards danger when reporting on sensitive topics.”
According to Saadia Jahangir, Assignment Editor of Dunya TV‘s Quetta Bureau, numerous students from the media department apply for internship opportunities as reporters. Despite their enthusiasm, when these young grads are given opportunities to work in mainstream media firms, they face a reality check and many find that they could not continue work in this stressful environment.
According to psychologist Dr. Saeed Achakzai, every human being copes in a different way when receiving the impact of any trauma or news. “We have an impression here that if you are a journalist, you should be tough. If you are sensitive, the popular perception believes, then why come in this field?”
According to him, it is true to some extent that when you choose a field, you do it by looking at your abilities. “But we are also human beings: some stress affects us, but it does not mean that you are not suitable for this job.”