January 15, 2021
The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) on Friday gave the government a three-month deadline to resolve the ongoing media crisis which has severely compromised the independence of media in the country.
The PFUJ warned that the media persons will resort to nationwide protests, strikes, and lockdowns if it fails to develop a framework that could provide physical, economic, and mental security to media workers. The declaration was announced at the conclusion of a seminar on ‘freedom of expression and resolution of media crisis’, organized by the PFUJ in collaboration with the Punjab Union of Journalists and the Lahore Press Club, at a local hotel in Lahore.
The seminar was attended by journalists, lawyers, civil society activists, and representatives from political parties.
Announcing the declaration, Nasir Zaidi, Secretary-General of PFUJ, said the government as to take demonstrable actions to resolve the issues faced by journalists and media outlets and deal with the worst ever suppression of the right to free press and expression in the country.
“An immediate, formal, and structured dialogue on the finalization of long-overdue legislation for the protection and safety of journalists is a prerequisite for demonstration of its commitment to media independence and free press,” the PFUJ declaration stated.
In addition, the provisions that are stifling the expression on electronic, print, and social media need to be revisited as choking voices and silencing dissent are not the solution to the grave issues of Pakistan’s state, democracy, and polity, the PFUJ said, adding that the provisions only exacerbate the crisis.
The PFUJ said the union will make public its own draft of the law for the protection of journalists and recommendations for amendments to other media regulatory instruments at its national convention to be held in March.
In its statement, PFUJ noted that the government has consistently failed on delivering on its commitment to free media and instead sat silent in numerous instances of intimidation and physical harm to journalists at the hands of still ‘unknown culprits”.
“Not a single instance of arrest and punishment of perpetrators only reinforces the popular perception that either the government is helpless or is an accomplice,” the declaration said.
The PFUJ said the perception can only be undone with the government’s effective actions to expedite the ongoing probes and investigations into such incidents and arrest and indict responsible individuals under the anti-terrorism laws.
“Such immediate actions are necessary to nurture an environment where journalists can function without fear of intimidation and harm to bring truth and facts to the public, which is the only strong scaffolding to a democratic structure that is vibrant.”
PFUJ, which was formed in Karachi on August 2, 1950, to protect the rights of journalists and press freedom, took strong exception to the worsening working environment of journalists amid a media industry that is thriving without being regulated under applicable laws.
Instead of using the publicity budget to appease the compliant media, the government must fairly allocate the financial resources to all television and radio channels and newspapers on the basis of viewership and readership, the PFUJ demanded.
The government’s unclear policy on the use of its publicity budget is one of the major reasons for the economic ordeal of the journalists and media industry workers, the PFUJ said.
“As many as 8,000 journalists and media workers have lost their jobs over the past couple of years under arbitrary retrenchments and illegal terminations by media managements and owners in complete violation of the laws that govern contracts and employment,” the declaration stated.
The declaration stated that in a complete sense of impunity, the media management and media owners have been encouraged to not even pay the rightful dues of employees who have been terminated or retrenched. “There have been instances when journalists and workers were threatened and abused for raising voices for their rightful dues,” the PFUJ said.
PFUJ has also urged the government to immediately take measures to ensure the complete enforcement of the Wage Board Award under the applicable laws and penalize the outlets that are not giving the legal dues to their workers.
“The government is duty-bound to ensure the implementation of the Wage Board Award. Any inaction will be taken as its inability to fulfil its legal responsibilities,” the PFUJ declaration concluded.