In the last few years a number of journalists have lost their lives in Pakistan while performing their professional duties. Many have been injured, and many others have been arrested, abducted, harassed or pressurised. And a lot of this continues to happen. Most recently we lost a reporter in the Swat area. In a majority of cases we have not been able to find out, sometimes even after months and years, as to who was responsible for the crime, far less that culprits are brought to justice. If the case catches the public eye, as it sometimes does, when the journalist is from a resourceful and relatively better known group or has backing somewhere from some group or the other, the story becomes known, there are public statements lamenting the crime, and sometimes the state even announces money for the victim's family. But eventually the crime just becomes a statistic and nothing much happens after that. A journalist friend was once working on a story about some gross violations of laws by a government department. He got a number of calls to warn him off. He published the first instalment of it nonetheless. But before he could get the second part of the story in, he was hit by a car and he broke his leg. One could argue that this was just an accident. And this is exactly how the police also treated it. But it is another story that the car that hit him had actually hit him so that he had fallen on the ground and then the driver had backed the car over him to ensure that he had at least a broken leg. So much for accidents. But this is a small incident compared to what some other journalists have faced. When journalists are performing their duty and are reporting from difficult areas or are investigating difficult stories, they are providing an important service to the society. They are clearly working for a salary, and providing a service to their employer, but their role is much more than that. They are also providing the society a service and they are creating a positive externality for the society. Information allows the society to do accountability for public as well as private individuals. It allows people to monitor state and/or private agents and through that possibility of accountability it allows the society to create a mechanism for deterrence as well. If people know that their actions could become public, they are that much more likely to be careful. Even if they realise that there is some chance of their actions becoming public, it acts as a deterrent for most people. Hence journalists become not only the eyes and ears of the society, just knowing that there are eyes and ears out there acts as a means of circumscribing actions for most people. If there is no body on a street corner and people know that nobody is around, does the probability of crime become higher at that spot? There will always be those people who will not commit a crime even if they know there is nobody around to catch them. Their internal checks are strong enough. And there are always some people who will commit crimes even if they know there is a high probability of getting caught. But in the middle there are lots of people who, if they know that there is a high enough probability of being caught, they will not commit crimes but otherwise they will. Even probability based deterrent mechanisms can be effective for these people. And journalists, doing their duty of reporting and digging around, can act as these probability mechanisms. It is no wonder journalism is termed as one of the pillars on which democratic, open and humane societies are built on. Suppose the journalists were not providing any externality for the society, and were just providing a service to their employer that their employer, in a combination of other services, was selling to the customer. This is the case with most workers in all multi-worker workplaces. In such a case we know that it is the responsibility of the employer, under the law, to ensure that he/she provides an environment to its employees that is not dangerous or hazardous for health, that is within certain safety parameters and that does not expose its employees to unacceptable levels of risk. And they need to have proper training as well. Electricians need to have the proper equipment and training as do the miners and so on and so forth. Even within acceptable categories of risk, higher risk jobs are compensated with more training, better salaries, better health care benefits and better accident and life insurance and so on. Journalists in Pakistan clearly have jobs that are dangerous. Higher salaries, health and accident insurance should be mandatory on their employers to provide. And they should get the requisite training's to deal with their job requirements as well. The laws should ensure this and state should, through the regulatory mechanism, ensure that laws are abided by and enforced. But there are extraordinary conditions in the country as well. Bombs explode in unexpected places and at unexpected times. Reporters and cameraperson's have to be there if they are to report. Better training and better coverage becomes essential for journalists under these conditions if they are to be compensated for the risks they are taking. There are almost war-like conditions in some parts of the country. Journalists working in these areas in particular are in even more vulnerable position. There are cases where conditions are so dangerous and hazardous that we sometimes just ban people from being employed under such conditions. If there are no externalities involved for the society, either the employer covers the risk for the job and compensates the employees, at least in theory, or we ban the job. But in cases where externalities are involved, and the society benefits from an activity beyond the services that the employer is able to charge people for, there is an argument for the state/society to pay for that activity too. If we need journalists to report from difficult areas and on difficult topics, if we need them to do investigative journalism and tread on toes of powerful people as well as powerful interest groups, and if we need them to act as the conscience of the people, we, as a people and with the state as our representative, have to take responsibility for protecting them better, for training them better and for providing for them and their families in a much better way as well. For if we do not do that, we run the risk of either exposing these people to too much danger, or making them and their families bear costs that should be unacceptable for any decent society. If we feel that we do not need to know about what is going on in Swat or where the disappeared people have gone, we should just restrain journalists from going into these areas and/or reporting on such issues (though an open society should not take this option seriously). For to continue things as they are should not be acceptable. We have already lost a number of journalists. The issues involved are clear. If we do not act now, we are likely to lose more people. And such loses will continue to wreck havoc in the lives of families that bear the loss and it will continue to weaken the profession of journalism. It is not the case that if we provide better training, better health and other insurance we will not have accidents and killings. They will happen but the probability of occurrence will be lower and the probability of loss will be lower as well. And in cases things do happen, at least the families of the people concerned will be well provided for. Can the owners, the government, civil society organisations and journalist organisations come together to address the issue? One definitely hopes so. But someone will have to take the lead on this and so far, it seems, nobody is willing to take the lead. The writer is an associate professor and head of the Department of Economics, LUMS E-mail: hl_mehdi@hotmail.com