August 31, 2022 – With extreme floods continuing to ravage Pakistan, disruptions in telecommunications services have piled up a number of challenges for journalists reporting from the flood-hit areas.
The catastrophic flooding has claimed at least 1,000 lives, affected more than 33 million people, and inflicted losses amounting to billions of dollars across the country. More than 3,500 people have been injured since July 14, according to a report by the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA).
However, for those bringing stories from the front lines, connectivity outages have heavily impeded the flow of information. Asim Khan, a reporter associated with SAMAA TV, said that the floods have severely limited connectivity in most parts of Balochistan, including Quetta.
“Although we have content for news reports and packages, we can’t send it to the newsroom on time due to limited connectivity,” Khan said while speaking to Digital Rights Monitor (DRM). He highlighted that a number of reporters, in current circumstances, are mostly relying on information from government agencies.
Khan added that disruptions in cellular services have also made it difficult to verify the material, including videos, that reporters have been receiving from the affected areas which they are unable to access themselves. “One-sided stories are not appropriate and it is important to cross-check what we are putting out there.”
Balochistan, in particular, is facing an extreme energy crisis, leading to widespread connectivity disruptions, according to Aaj TV reporter Muhammad Khalid.
“It’s difficult to work with connectivity problems but we are trying to manage,” said Khalid, adding that reporters are largely communicating with their respective newsrooms through WhatsApp when they are able to connect, especially in areas where network is available.
Geo News’ Nadeem Kausar, who is reporting from Quetta, remarked that connectivity issues have heavily impacted reporting in flood-ravaged areas.
“The extent of devastation caused by the floods is difficult to ascertain at the moment due to lack of access caused by disruptions in both physical and cellular communication,” Kausar told DRM. He said that reporters have to walk long distances to find spots where they can access the internet and upload the stories that they have gathered.
SAMAA TV’s Ijaz Khalid, from Charsadda, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, pointed out that journalists like himself, who have access to more than one network, are able to manage their reporting by switching back and forth between different networks.
“But not all reporters here have access to multiple networks,” Khalid remarked. This leads to delay in the delivery of videos and other material to the newsroom for timely coverage.
On August 26, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) confirmed that voice and internet services had been disrupted in different areas of Balochistan due to the damage caused to the fibre-optic cable by heavy rains and floods. Although the services were restored hours later, reports of prolonged connectivity blackouts continue to emerge from areas affected by the floods.