Pakistan’s media is going through the dark ages of its history. For starters, working conditions for journalists are nowhere close to satisfactory, furthermore, there is no guarantee that they will live to see another day. According to the International Federation of Journalists, Pakistan was ranked fourth in their list of the most dangerous countries for journalists in 2016.The exact number of journalists killed in the line of duty remains unknown known due to conflicting claims made by various local and international organisations. According to careful estimates, nearly 120 journalists have been killed in Pakistan since 1995.
Moreover, financial security is nonexistent. According to the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists, there are over sixty thousand working journalists across Pakistan, out of which only 20 percent receive salaries, with the remaining 80 percent being mostly outstation reporters with side businesses and other ventures which, at times, tend to compromise their journalistic ethics just so they can earn bread and butter for their families. Media houses do not provide health care services or life insurance to most journalists, despite the often life threatening working conditions. Despite all this, they continue to work for the people of Pakistan to promote democracy and rule of law.
Owners of certain media outlets have adopted a gluttonous anti-worker stance, with exploitation of working rights being rampant. The employees were paid very little, with the transfer of funds being extremely irregular, and the current government handed the higher ups an excuse on a silver platter so they can continue to their callous financial carnage. The implementation of a huge budget cut on the Government’s print and electronic media advertisement budget allowed media owners to sack employees left and right under the guise of downsizing, while also resulting in them using budget cuts as an excuse to withhold salaries which are already delayed to begin with, thus leaving hundreds of capable journalists with no livelihood. Media outlets have been under immense pressure by the Chief Justice of Pakistan for clearing dues of the newspersons, however they spun the government’s budget cuts to serve their own end and took undue advantage of the situation. Every media organisation, whether big or small, is dismissing workers.
Unfortunately the media market is already saturated, which proves to be yet another challenge for unemployed journalists, making it harder for them to find employment again.
In this critical situation, the media workers need a strong protest led by journalists’ trade unions supported by the civil society and democratic forces. The fact that the journalist community does not have any unanimous leadership is rather unfortunate. At some point, the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) led by Nisar Usmani (a legendary journalist and trade unionist) supported by people like Aziz Siddiqui, I A Rehman, Hussain Naqi, Dr Mehdi Hasan, Ahfazur Rehman, Huma Ali and several others served as a source of leadership and representation. None of the participants gained any personal benefit from the government or media owners but fought for the workers’ rights and democracy.
Presently, the PFUJ has split into at least 3 main factions, and an additional half a dozen smaller faction. Some of the leaders of these self-styled unions have become cronies of media owners or anti-democratic forces. They are busy in their personal gains and security instead of the workers’ rights. This division in the community serves the interests of media owners and anti-democratic forces.
A faction of PFJU has been protesting in Islamabad where the journalist leaders fry ‘pakoras’ as a mark of protest. They must know that they too had a part to play in this situation. If they establish unity and follow in the footsteps of Nisar Usmani and others mentioned above, they may be able to serve their colleagues in a better way.