SEOUL (June 23, 2012) —Veteran NPR correspondent Julie McCarthy told a gripping account of reporting in Pakistan to a packed audience Saturday at an East-West Center International Media Conference session at which foreign correspondents shared tales of getting the tough stories.
“Pakistan is a hugely problematic state to cover,” said McCarthy, NPR’s South Asia correspondent, who has spent three and half years there. “It’s not Iraq. It’s not Afghanistan. It is its own beast.”
The most serious danger for journalists there is the secret state, known as the “deep state” in Pakistan, she said. Journalists have to deal with a myriad of intelligence agents who could be either enemies or allies of the militants — a microcosm of the biggest problem that McCarthy said looms over the country: “Whose side is Pakistan fighting for?”
During her daily routine, McCarthy said, she is constantly watched by intelligence agents. But she never knows if she is under any imminent danger, “which has its own strange psychological effect on you,” she said.
However, the danger faced by correspondents in Pakistan is in not nearly as great as that faced by domestic journalists, who are often kidnapped or receive death threats, she said. Several have recently been killed.
In China, the most pressing concern is protecting sources, said Tania Branigan, a Beijing-based correspondent for The Guardian. The commitment to sources does not end when the story is published, she said, but the task is made more difficult with a “staggering” number of surveillance cameras everywhere.
“Nothing I say over the telephone and nothing that happens on my computer is secure anyway,” Branigan said.
Reporting in Japan and Korea requires different skill sets than reporting in China and Pakistan, said Chico Harlan, East Asian Bureau Chief of The Washington Post.
While correspondents do not encounter threats of violence or suppression there, Harlan said, they need to be able to compile information and stay organized. He shared a story about covering last year’s earthquake and tsunami in Japan, adding that these abilities become particularly important in those kinds of crises.
As a new correspondent for AsianN in South Korea, Wang Suen said she encourages young journalists to tackle the tough issues.
McCarthy expressed the importance of being wise, of thinking about exit plans instead of risking lives or burning bridges.
“It takes more than luck to survive,” McCarthy said. “You are here to survive to tell the story.”
— Reporting by Regina Wang, Missouri School of Journalism