Official Indifference Worsens Media Crisis

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Journalists move for final round of protests against forceful layoffs

Pak Chronicle Report

Journalists in Pakistan are facing the worst crisis of the history because of massive layoffs which have no end to it and the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) led government seems least bothered about all these disastrous developments.

On Friday (February 15), the management of the Karachi Press Club (KPC) announced to ban the entry of Federal Information Minister, Fawad Chaudhry into the club’s premises. Moreover, journalists boycotted the press conference of Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed which was taking place at KPC’s premises. They chanted slogans against the government and asked the federal minister of the Railways to condemn the approach of the government of turning blind eye on severe issues being faced by them.

Thousands of working journalists have already been sacked from different media organizations. There are many journalists whose salaries are not being paid on time for the past many months. There are numerous journalists whose salaries have been deducted up to 40 percent by their managements.

These media owners quote financial crises as the main reason behind these forceful layoffs as the federal government is reluctant to pay their outstanding dues under the head of ads.

Ironically the journalists who used to claim themselves as fourth of pillar of the state after legislature, executive and judiciary are at the receiving end and they have been forced to face the music.

They are being forced to accept forceful layoffs. No media channel or newspaper is carrying packages or news items about these issues being faced by media workers. The government which was supposed to back and support them is preferring to play the role of a silent spectator.

The irony of the matter is, the federal minister of information who was supposed to be the custodian of rights of journalists, at least once himself advised students in an event to drop idea of becoming journalists by graduating in Mass communication as, according to him, there is no more scope in this field.

There are some journalists who blame the government for giving free hand to media owners to layoff them. They believe that the government is keeping no check and balance on the media owners due to reasons better known to it.

There are many media owners whose other businesses have been flourishing since they decided to make venture into the media industry.

There were some owners of a few media groups which were facing cases of corruption. However, these cases could never be brought into lime light or they were dropped because they had camouflage of media. There were some media owners who grabbed evacuee trust board’s land and since they were in media industry so no action was taken by any government agency against them.  There were some media owners whose cases of corruption were taken up by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB). However, what happened with these cases, nobody knows about it.

Securing declaration for newspaper or getting license for a private TV channel is a hard job. There are certain parameters and formalities which need to be followed before securing license for a TV channel or getting declaration for some publication.

It is interesting to note there is certain criteria for declaring some newspaper certified by Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC), Ministry of Information.  The criteria for being certified as ABC is so strict that only a few newspapers may qualify for it. However, one may finds hundreds of publications which are ABC certified and eligible for certain government perks and privileges, mostly the public sector ads. The list of these publications is available on website of the concerned department. As far as their circulation is concerned, one needs microscope to find these publications on news stalls.  How these publications fulfilled the criteria of achieving specific circulation to get them certified as ABC, nobody knows about it. They continue to survive as ABC certified publications in broad day light.

Large number of owners of publications either don’t pay or negligibly pay salaries to their staff and they hardly have any considerable circulation to meet the demand. They were and they are being rewarded with the public sector ads because their publication is ABC certified.

Who is going to conduct audits against these publications which don’t qualify as being ABC certified. Certainly the government does not seem in the mood to do so.

There were some owners of these publications who had a bad record of paying salaries to their staff but later on they were also given licenses to operate private TV channels.  Pakistani media industry witnessed boom period after 9/11 but large number of working journalists could not reap the fruit of this boom. They still can’t afford quality education for their children and most of them have no personal accommodation. Many of them have already lost jobs due to ongoing media crisis.

A journalist of print media industry had wanted to secure declaration for a newspaper from Press Information Department (PID) Islamabad and he was told to submit his 10 years’ experience certificate as being working journalists with the department. Original  copy of the certificate was required for this purpose.

How many publications’ owners do have 10 years of experience of working as journalist with some media organization? The answer is hardly fewer because many of them before venturing into media industry had little exposure to it and having 10 years of experience is something which is absolutely out of question.

But whose mandate it is to check it whether a publisher or owner fulfilled all the formalities before being awarded declaration to run some newspaper. The government seems in no mood to do so. Currently it is concentrating on the business which it could do the best and it is to turn blind eye on layoffs of journalists. Fewer journalists can afford fees of lawyers while seeking justice on some forums against these forceful layoffs. Moreover, free media is not required at the moment so it is better to keep media persons engaged in forceful retrenchments and let them face the music.

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