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Foreign Journalists Inspired by Legacy of Slain US Reporter

A journalist from Pakistan and another from Nepal are completing a fellowship that commemorates Daniel Pearl, a Wall Street Journal reporter who was abducted and killed by terrorists in Pakistan in 2002. The two journalists have spent time in American newsrooms, and say the experience, and the late reporter's example, have inspired them.

Daniel Pearl began his career at the North Adams Transcript and Berkshire Eagle in Massachusetts, then moved on to The Wall Street Journal. The two reporters spent five months working for those papers.

Ghanashyam Ojha usually writes for The Kathmandu Post, covering politics, human rights and Nepal's Maoist insurgency. This year, he entered a very different world in small-town Massachusetts, working for the North Adams Transcript and Berkshire Eagle, where the late Daniel Pearl began his career. Ojha says he developed an affection for the region and respect for the paper.

"Though it's a small newspaper, when we compare it with national dailies, I think the newspaper has done a great job in disseminating information to the community in Massachusetts," said Ghanashyam Ojha.

Journalists in Nepal have faced pressures in recent years, both from officials and Maoist insurgents. Press freedoms were restricted after Nepal's King Gyanendra dissolved parliament and took control of the government early last year. Mass protests this year brought a violent response from officials and the jailing of a number of journalists. In the face of international censure, the king allowed parliament to reconvene in late April. In May, parliament voted to curb Gyanendra's power, and Ojha says he understands that conditions at home have improved.

Pakistan journalist Shahid Shah of The News International newspaper in Karachi has been working in the Washington bureau of The Wall Street Journal. He says journalists in Pakistan are ostensibly free to write as they please, but that they engage in self-censorship, out of fear of offending the powerful military.

"Self-censorship in Pakistan started when General Zia became president of Pakistan, and he remained the chief of the army," said Shahid Shah. "So, since then, we are living under self-imposed censorship, and although government has been claiming that there has been no censorship and press is free in Pakistan, but it is not."

The 11-year rule of General Zia-ul-Haq began in 1977, and was the longest in the country's history. Pakistan is again ruled by the army chief, President Pervez Musharraf, who staged a bloodless coup in 1999, overthrowing the civilian leadership.

He has promised to return the nation to democracy, and says he values the role of the media as a watchdog on government. However, a number of human rights groups rank Pakistan poorly in press freedom. The organization, Freedom House, for example, cites harassment of journalists and aggressive tactics by authorities to silence critics.

Shah says he is impressed by the emphasis on accurate reporting at The Wall Street Journal, and its focus on research. He has written stories on the Middle East and Pakistan, and says they go through a series of editors.

"And every editor has their questions, and they have written [sent] the story back to the reporters," he said. "And then, finally, a story is approved by the reporter himself, or herself. And, before it is approved, it won't be published."

Judea Pearl, the father of the late Wall Street Journal reporter, heads the Daniel Pearl Foundation, which promotes a legacy of objective reporting and communication between people of different regions. He says the Pearl Fellowships bring journalists from the Middle East and South Asia to see the United States, and understand its diversity of culture and opinion.

"Danny used to do it the other way around," said Judea Pearl. "He went to the East, and started reporting to us about his adventures with the people behind the news. And he reported, you know, from Tehran, Kosovo, Yemen, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia. And we saw through his writings the people behind the news. Now, it's time for the East to reciprocate."

Both visiting reporters say they have honed their investigative skills, and will return to their homelands with a new commitment.

Shahid Shah says journalists in Pakistan face very real threats, and some, like Daniel Pearl, have been kidnapped and murdered.

"It's really dangerous to work in a country like Pakistan, but I'm not scared of that," said Shahid Shah. "I have got energy. I'm inspired by the work of Daniel Pearl, and I'm inspired by his family, and they wanted to spread a dialogue, to start a dialogue."

Ghanashyam Ojha says he is pleased to take part in that dialogue, and was also inspired by his time here.

"I'll be taking my experiences, not only of journalism, but also Danny's message for humanity," he said. "So, when I stayed here, though for a very brief period, six months, I got to learn about American society, people, so it really helped me to know the actual views of Americans towards the outer world."

He says many in his country view the United States through a narrow prism of official statements from the White House or Pentagon. He hopes to broaden that perspective.