200 Journalists Fired To Prevent Freedom of the Press In Pakistan

News that channels never break

by Adnan Farooq

Freemasonry of zealots cries hoarse if ever the state announces subsidy to bail out a public sector institution such as the Pakistan Railways. Stays silent on Rs 300m bribe to media barons as 200 journalists fired!

The Prime Minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani, issued a cheaque for Rs300 million to the All Pakistan Newspaper Society (APNS) on March 24, using his discretionary powers.

By any standards and by any definition, PM Gilani’s largesse constitutes a public bribe lock, stock and barrel. Neither the independent media nor the independent judiciary has taken any notice.

All are silent: Self-righteous politicians like Imran Khan, moral brigades decorating talk shows, Media Mujahideen, and anti-corruption anchor-persons.

The official loose cannon Ms. Firdous Ashiq Awan says the All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS) would decide how to utilise this ‘aid’ aimed at bailing out struggling media industry (Express Tribune March 26).

The above-mentioned freemasonry of zealots, however, cries hoarse if ever the state announces subsidy to bail out a public sector institution such as the Pakistan Railways, WAPDA, or PIA.

But this is not a one-time chance occurrence. Violation of the Wage Board Award is an ongoing scandal. Retrenchments, delayed wages, contractual labour, sexual harassment, and bosses’ corruption has become hallmark of mainstream media practices.

The details below offer mere a tip of the iceberg:

1.       In the last two months at least 200 workers have been fired from different newspapers and TV channels

2.       Geo has fired over 100 journalists

3.       ARY fired 12 staffers and has not paid salaries for the last two months

4.       Such TV recently fired 7 staff members

5.       TV channel News One has not paid salaries for 5 months now

6.       Indus TV staffers have not received salaries for  5 months now

7.       Daily Times has not paid wages for months. For last three years, wages have not been paid timely at the DT. Similarly, Business Plus staff has not been paid salaries for three months

8.       Daily Pakistan Today, launched a year ago from Lahore by Arif Nizami, has not paid wages for three months. It recently fired four staffers

9.       Aaj TV is either not paying the wages or has been delaying the payments. The Aaj Karachi staffers have recently launched a campaign for the payment of arrears.

10.   Three English-language channels: Dawn, Express, and Geo went off air in the last two-to-three years. The staff rendered jobless, by and large, was neither accommodated in the sister organisations nor offered any compensation.

11.   Khabrain group’s most outlets are either not paying the wages or delaying. A Khabrain Group staffer three years ago committed suicide. He was not paid wages for months and being his family’s sole bread-winner, he resorted to suicide as the last resort.

12.   Daily Maqadma, Karachi, fired 6 journalists

The Express Tribune reports Prime Minister Gilani also approved Rs350 million grant, last year, through a ‘one-time’ suspension of rules and regulations in the established process. The report says: “However, the information ministry and the Pakistan Information Department staff refused to be part of the illegal process and when the bills were submitted, the Accountant General of Pakistan Revenue (AGPR) returned them. The AGPR had clarified in its objections that the process of payments of millions of rupees was illegal and suspicious…the disputed bills belong to the period between July 2000 and June 2008 and the federal government had allocated funds twice to clear dues but the parties claiming them could not provide original documents even once to substantiate their claims”.

To its credit, the Express Triune not merely editorialized protest against this grant but has consistently reported it.  It also reported a statement by the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) calling to link this grant with the implementation of the Wage Board Award.

Meantime, the APNS President Hameed Haroon has said that funds released by the prime minster would be used to bail out small newspapers and save advertising agencies that are defaulting (Tribune March 26). This is an incredible ruse.

Second-tear media outlets often prove even big exploiters. Zulfiqar Rajpar, a member of the Karachi Union of Journalist, was fired last February from the daily Awami Awaz. Rajpar told the Viewpoint that he would go on hunger strike. He says he was not even served a notice. Serving a notice is not a practice any more since the journalists are not issued any appointment letters at all. To twist the long arm of the law, even mainstream newspapers employ journalists on the rolls of ghost firms.

PS: Recently Skype sent its merchandised items as gifts to French media outlets. These are politely returned since these gifts could be construed as bribe.

Adnan Farooq has worked with daily The Nation, Lahore and  daily Jang, Lahore. He has also volunteered for Milieudefensie, Amsterdam. Friends of the earth, Europe, on environmental issues. He has been working with ON FILE, an Amsterdam-based publication run by journalists from all around the world. He studied Conflict Resolution at University of Amsterdam. He is the editor.