Journalism in Pakistan under threat

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While attending a meeting of Editors Club on crisis of Media in Pakistan on Nov 26, 2018, I was thinking that what the actual reasons of current crisis of media are in 2018. Some members put its onus on media itself and its division and some just added words to show their presence. But in fact for those journalists who are living without pay and under threat of their life, the ongoing crisis is impacting their life immensely

Though chief guest of the meeting Mr.Imran Atta Soomro, the information Secretary of Sind Government promised that soon Journalists would get their insurance and soon government is going to pay outstanding dues of media but this is not enough.

It is now a known fact that some news television channels have been shut down. Many other news channels, big and small, are teetering on the brink: their advertising revenues have been falling for several months. The keyword in the (electronic) media these days is ‘rightsizing’ just to throw its workers.

The newspaper industry has its own issues to overcome. Watching resignedly as companies took a substantial portion of their media spend from their print to their digital platforms to reach out to their target markets, the good old trusted newspaper are facing a mortal threat as their incomes have fallen drastically.

Thus starved of resources, newspapers and magazines have shed pages and created redundancies of their own. Some are finding it hard to pay salaries to their retained employees, contributing to the unrest and the increasingly vocal protest among journalists and other workers in the industry.

The number of employees who have lost their jobs in this latest wave stand somewhere between 300 and 700, with others if bleeding continues.

The government has cut its media spending by more than 70 per cent and companies by almost 50pc’, says a leading advertising agency owner.

What has happened is that the government has decided to sharply slash media spending and is refusing to clear outstanding payments to TV channels and newspapers, on account of advertisements released by the previous PML-N administration, intensified the trouble. Information Minister Chaudhry Fawad Hussain promised last week to clear the unpaid bills of the media houses to protect jobs.

Some Karachi-based advertising firm executives believe that the combined media spending of government and the private sector has grown to Rs 90.5bn during CY2017, but they insist television’s share in the market stands at 66.4pc compared with the print media share of 10.7pc.

On the basis of their popularity among viewers, the top six channels grabbed 45pc of the total television advertising spending of Rs42bn in FY2017. ARY Digital and Hum TV topped the industry with a 10pc share each followed by Geo News with eight per cent, Geo Entertainment with seven per cent, and Urdu1 and PTV Home with five per cent each. The rest left for scores of other channels to share between them.

Similarly, the top three newspapers captured 47pc of the total print advertising revenue of Rs20 bn with Jang topping the list with 26pc share followed by Dawn with 12pc and The Express Tribune with nine per cent.

Many news industry analysts argue that if the PML-N used government advertising to ‘bribe’ channels and newspapers, the PTI is employing the same tool to muzzle them.

The proposal to replace the existing separate electronic and print regulators with a new body, Pakistan Media Regulatory Authority (PMRA), to regulate print, electronic and social media without consulting the owners and journalists is an attempt to control the content (produced by the news media).

Whatever little fee consumers pay to watch more than 100 channels at home goes to the distributors instead of content producers. Similarly, up to 40pc of the cost of a newspaper is pocketed by hawkers-distributors and another 10-20pc is lost in bad debts and unrecovered costs. While the television industry gets nothing from distributors, newspapers recover only a small fraction of their cost from sales.

However in Pakistan where pattern of assault on journalists and media are expanding it is highly necessary for the government and journalist organizations to create and monitor a database of reporters, editors, correspondents, social media influencers and bloggers.

Agenda for the betterment of journalism in Pakistan always rested with positivity and siding with 200 million people of Pakistan since most of them are fighting against miseries and injustices in every field of their life.

A free press provides a critical independent check on government power, demands accountability and helps sustain transparent and democratic societies. In Pakistan and in many countries, the press provides a forum for active debate investigates corruption and gives voice to the disenfranchised. In contrast, in dozens of other countries, publications and media outlets are censored or banned, and journalists are threatened, imprisoned and even killed.

Because of our integrated global society with vast and instantaneous communication tools, we in Pakistan also have an obligation to identify and condemn violations of press freedom wherever they occur.

The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) has been used to silence the broadcast media by either suspending licenses or by simply threatening to do so. In addition, media is also exposed to propaganda from state agencies, pressured by powerful political elements and non-state actors involved in the current conflict.

Media freedom in Pakistan is complicated; journalists are free to report on most things. However any articles critical of the Government or the Military and related security agencies are automatically censored.

The security situation for journalists in general has deteriorated in decade.

It was the first dictatorship of General Ayub Khan that brought take-over of newspapers, the institutionalization of control through the Press & Publications Ordinance, 1960 with the imprisonment of leading editors. Nevertheless, repression was met with resistance. Some were acts of individual courage, some of collective defiance.

While the military coup in July, 1977, General Ziaul-Haq’s government also set a record in terms of issuing press advices.

The rise of militancy and terrorism brought yet another threat to journalists in Pakistan. It has made the country one of the most dangerous for journalists. Today they are sitting ducks for Islamic militants as well as any interest group that sees the free press as an adversary.

The latest victims are social media bloggers. While it was believed that the social media will give everyone unfettered freedom of expression, it was not to be. The Prevention of Cyber Crimes Act curtailed that freedom through vague and wide-ranging definitions. And, at the same time, the enforced disappearance of several bloggers and the registration of blasphemy cases against some have resulted in a new age of self-censorship.

Seventy years is a fairly long time for state institutions – including the judiciary and the armed forces – to accept the media’s intrinsic adversarial role. Having said that, it is also a long time for the media to demonstrate greater responsibility in its reporting, to prepare code of conduct from the side of Journalists, to encourage research based analysis on issues like economy, politics and matters pertaining to social life, to come forward for the Journalists in case of their dire needs and protection and to encourage reporting done objectively without taking any body’s side based on reality favoring environment for the unity of the country.

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