Shahid Hussain Shehzada
Gilgit-Baltistan has seven districts and has a population of 1.6 million as per rough estimates. It has a province-like set up involving portfolios of Governor, Speaker, Deputy Speaker and Chief Minister who are assisted by a cabinet and members of the legislative assembly and Gilgit-Baltistan Council and a bureaucracy to run the internal executive processes. Most Pakistanis have heard of this breathtakingly beautiful part of the country but few are aware of the everyday realities of the region.
A picture is worth a thousand words because it compels people to look at the actual situation of others caught up in events or happenings and motivates them to react accordingly. However, most media coverage of Gilgit-Baltistan, whether it is of assembly secessions or natural disasters, live narration by correspondents is backed only by file footage instead of recent shots, even though nearly all media channels have deployed their Direct Satellite News Gathering (DSNG) vans in other cities of Pakistan for live coverages to keep an eye on issues of public concern.
The absence of DSNG vans in Gilgit-Baltistan is a matter of concern as the people of this region have a democratic right to be heard and for the reality of their lives to be represented accurately. Media owners and gatekeepers must initiate live surveillance in this part of Pakistan so that people may be more aware while performing their duties and fulfilling their social roles to ensure peace, progress and prosperity in Gilgit-Baltistan.
There were some occasions where media channels installed DSNG vans in Gilgit-Baltistan such as the disaster of Hunza Atta Abad Lake, and some channels even sent their anchors and tried their level best to bring the government’s response to some accountability and inform the public about the risks and problems faced by IDPs. During those days live media coverage kept the federal and regional governments alert and sensitive to the problems of IDPs and the need to provide them relief. The issue of Hunza Atta Abad Lake remained in the live coverage of media for a few days and since then media channels have called back their DSNG vans to Islamabad and other cities.
It is worth mentioning that the recent devastating flood not only caused the loss of lives, properties and infrastructure in the whole country but Gilgit-Baltistan also faced the same. Live coverage of media in other parts of the country brought the severity of the issue to the public eye regarding the sorrowful situation of flood-hit areas. Live coverage also exposed some government functionaries about their negligence in flood hit areas.
The only other occasion when DSNG vans are ever seen in Gilgit-Baltistan is the official visits of heads of states or government functionaries. One curious side of this story is that even though Gilgit is the capital of Gilgit-Baltistan and the residence of the Governor and Chief Minister but whenever they need to organize a live press conference they have to travel to Islamabad to access the desired live coverage in media.
Democratic countries consider the media the fourth pillar of the state because it highlights people’s problems and issues before the government and the public at large. We expect from the media managers and gatekeepers to deploy DSNG vans in Gilgit-Baltistan as well so that federal and regional governments and the public can stay aware regarding their legal, constitutional and moral responsibilities for the well being of the public.
The contributor is a freelance columnist based in Gilgit.