Sunday, September 19, 2010

Post-9/11 Pakistan: 63 journalists killed

Post-9/11 Pakistan: 63 journalists killed

600 journalists have been sacked from Dawn News, Geo English, ARY, Dunya, Royal, Indus, Channel 5, News One, Punjab TV, Samaa, Rohi, ATV as well as Daily Aaj Kal, Daily Jang, Daily Khabrain and Daily Al-Sharq, Daily Jinnah, Daily Times, Daily Business Today and The Post

The Pakistani journalists are forced to not only work in poor working conditions but also receive meager remuneration. They are not only insecure but also under constant mental, physical and economic pressure to support their families.

Over 63 journalists have lost their lives after 9/11 in the wake of war-like situation in Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwah and Baluchistan at the hands of militants, terrorists, Taliban, and ethnic groups, as bomb explosions and suicide attacks occur off and on. The number of the injured journalists is not less than 350. More than four dozen have become disabled to such an extent that they cannot even earn their livelihood.

No life insurance cover is provided either by the government or media magnates. Not a single journalist in Pakistan is being provided for and given benefits allowed under the laws including Wage Board Award, labour laws and under the ILO Conventions.

Plight of women workers:

Likewise, there is no Gender Policy formulated by media houses, and women are maltreated, abused, intimidated, harassed, underpaid and exploited. There is no working environment for women in consonance with standard norms. Not a single woman employee in the media organizations is given protection of employment, or job description, and they are forced to work odd hours. If they refuse, they are shunted out from the job summarily, without any notice or benefits.

The provisions of provident fund, gratuity, pension and other accrued benefits of services in the media houses, especially for the women, do not exist. At the time of hiring, signatures are obtained on a blank paper and subsequently the media owners exploit such documents for “unbelievable” counts and those refusing to obey are stigmatised.

By and large, journalists work in unhygienic conditions and even drinking water as per standards of WHO is not available. A large number of journalists have become permanent patients of high blood pressure, depression, hepatitis, and IHD (ischemic heart diseases).

Violation of labour laws:

The highhandedness of the media tycoons could be assessed from the fact that no appointment letters are issued to them. Contract system has been introduced by the media barons to escape a number of legal obligations, thus depriving journalists of benefits of job security, provident fund, gratuity, medical and other facilities. Not only have the media owners devised a unique method to circumvent the law, fake companies are also operated to employ media workers.

According to statistics, there are as many as 300 newspapers in the list of APNS (All Pakistan Newspaper Society), out of which only three have professional editors. The decision for publication/airing of the content is the sole prerogative of the media owners themselves both in electronic and print media.

Although a number of media persons lost their lives at the hands of militants, not a single media owner was hit or killed by them. Reasons are obvious: when such elements complain about any coverage, the media owners point towards reporters or anchors.

The media owners are now the dominating players in Pakistan. As pressure group, they dictate their terms to all the organs of the state. The law enforcing agencies, intelligence agencies and even the judiciary has become subservient to them. There is no one to come to the rescue of journalists who have been literally pushed to the wall. The human right activists, political workers, political parties, leaders, NGO’s, civil society, lawyers, and government etc are afraid of the mighty media magnates. They openly declare and repeatedly say that they are the real power who can destabilize or change a government.

There is hardly any newspaper or electronic media outlet which dares to publish a 50 words story of PFUJ depicting the plight of the journalists.

600 fired arbitrarily:

Meantime, over 600 journalists have been sacked from the print and electronic media which includes electronic channels such as Dawn News, Geo English, ARY, Dunya, Royal, Indus, Channel 5, News One, Punjab TV, Samaa, Rohi, ATV etc. and print media Daily Aaj Kal, Daily Jang, Daily Khabrain and Daily Al-Sharq, Daily Jinnah, Daily Times, Daily Business Today, The Post, etc.

Media owners become united in case a media person is sacked and nobody else is ready to offer him any employment opportunity. However, such conditions are waived if the same journalist agrees to work on 20 percent less of his salary which he was getting from his ex-media owner.

The hypocrisy of the Pakistani media owners can be judged from the fact that they just play with the sentiments of the people at large and for their vested interest. They always give an impression that “solution of every problem” is in the implementation of Islamic teachings and Islamic jurisprudence.

For instance, there is hot debate in the media that the politicians who contested elections without having a graduation degree they are not “Ameen“ (honest) and all those members of parliament and functionaries of the government including Prime Minister, President etc who have not fulfilled their pledges henceforth are no more Muslims.

Khabrain-employee Azam committed suicide:

Another sad story was witnessed in the year 2008 when a journalist, Mohamed Azam working on “Channel 5" owned by Zia Shahid of Khabrain group committed suicide on December 02 in Lahore. He was not paid his wages for five months. On Dec. 2008, he went to the office of the Khabrain to demand his wages. Azam pleaded to his bosses that he must be paid his wages as there was no food at home. He was badly tread by Imtinan Shahid, son of Zia Shahid, and was asked to leave office without payment. Imtinan even made very bad comments about Azam’s sisters. Imtinan told Azam that you have 8 sisters, ask them to work. He meant that the sisters should go for prostitution.

This made Azam very sad. When he went home, his mother asked if he was paid and he told her that the boss had not paid him. The mother reminded him about Eid which was coming up and asked him to do something about getting his wages. He went to his room, closed the door and hanged himself with an electric wire at 2 pm on Dec. 2, 2008.

Azam had 8 sisters, five of them married and three to marry yet. He has a brother of 9 years. Azam was the only bread winner of the family as his father had left them long ago.

The callousness of the media owners can be judged from this fact that none of the print and electronic media aired or published this incident and the cause for his suicide that was nonpayment of five months wages, and even did not mention the name of journalist Muhammad Azam. The media mentioned only that Azam committed suicide because he was facing financial difficulties. This attitude of the media owners exposes their real anti worker attitude which is against the ethics of real journalism.

Selfishness, bias and unprofessional coverage of the recent incident of suicide attacks, followed by indiscriminate firing on an Al-Quds day rally, at Quetta in which more than 70 people were killed and over 102 injured was evident. At least eight media persons from different media outlets sustained injuries and a driver of a private news channel was killed in this incident. Almost all channels mentioned only names of their dead/injured cameramen, reporters, driver, or employees and refrained from mentioning the names of the reporters or cameramen of other channels who had also suffered serious injuries or died during coverage of the procession. One can judge the unprofessional approach of the media owners as these channels claim themselves to be fair in reporting but they have different yardsticks for various sections of human beings.

The writer is in journalism since 1979 when he joined daily The Muslim Islamabad as a Special Correspondent. Later he joined daily DAWN and worked till 2009 followed by a litigation with the management of daily Dawn. Currently he is busy in trade union activities and holds various offices of the Journalists bodies. Currently he is a Secretary General of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists.

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