Media Foundation 360 held “investigative journalism with public record” training for reporters in Quetta, capital city of Balochistan province. The three day training from August 16 -19, 2017, was attended by mid-career journalists working with media in Quetta.
The training was designed to give journalists skills to access information from public offices through sunshine laws. The province of Balochistan has draft RTI bill 2015 that hasn’t been passed into a law by the provincial assembly. In absence of an active RTI law, citizens and journalists in the province can access information through the Balochistan Freedom of Information Act 2005 and the Federal Freedom of Information Ordinance 2002.
Spread over several editorial sessions that covered focusing story ideas for better coverage to identifying data sources to bring scope, depth and comparison for transparency and accountability of public offices, the training allowed trainees to develop story ideas for investigative reporting. After developing story plans, trainees wrote applications requesting information from relevant public departments citing the right to access information under the laws cited above.
As they work on the story ideas in the period post training, trainees will be mentored by local and international mentors.
The training was followed by a forum that brought together local journalists, the trainees and public officials to discuss challenges and suggest ways to overcome hindrances in sharing of information. Among the officials that attended the forum were Deputy Commissioner Farukh Atiq, Deputy Director Information Department Mumtaz Sher Tareen, Senior Superintendent Police Hamid Shahkeel and Mayor Quetta Dr Kaleem Ulllah.
Mumtaz Sher Tareem of the Information Department said in absence of a law implemented by an independent authority as in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkwa, access to information cannot be guaranteed. “Even though the law [Balochistan Freedom of Information Act 2005] does exist, the public departments are not obligated to provide information. Many don’t even know if the law exist.”
SSP Hamid Shahkeel said the police department had its own mechanism to respond to information requests. Information is shared on need to know basis, in keeping with security environment to ensure law and order. “We only share information available for public consumption. Information on operational matters cannot be shared because it can undermine security and law and order.”
Mayor Dr Kaleem Ullah said media as the fourth pillar of democracy is indispensable to ensure transparency and accountability. However, journalists do not follow media ethics which makes the public and officials wary of the way media works.
Deputy Commissioner Farukh Atiq emphasized the need maintenance of data at the official level. This he said would ensure smooth response to requests for information which is not possible in absence of maintenance of record, as is currently the case.