Experts call for economic security of journalists
ISLAMABAD: As many as 105 journalists lost their lives in the line of duty in past six years in Pakistan (2010-16) that has been regarded as one of the most dangerous countries for the media persons. The state and media industry need to come together to take steps on war-footing to ensure not only physical safety but the economic wellbeing of the journalists’ fraternity.
The participants of the first consultation meeting on “Economic security of journalists who have lost their lives or displaced due to security threats” identified the grey areas and offered remedies to deal with the situation. The event was organised by Communications Research Strategies (CRS) and JournalismPakistan.com where participants came up with valuable recommendations. Pakistan’s top journalists, communication experts and analysts showed up at the consultative session.
Nasir Zaidi, member of Pakistan Press Council (PPC) and a press freedom activist said the state of journalism was in pathetic condition. “There are 25000 working journalists in Pakistan and out of them only 1500 to 2000 are regular employees with the rest being contractual,” he disclosed.
He also drew attention towards the brain-drain in journalism. “Disheartened by the existing state of affairs, competent journalists are leaving the profession. The editor’s role has become minimal as managing directors and directors call the shots.”
Afzal Butt, President Rawalpindi-Islamabad Union of Journalists (RIUJ), said no support has been forthcoming from the government when it comes to providing protection to journalists, both physical and economic.
He suggested it would be good if the government told PEMRA to include a clause for license holders to declare if they had paid salaries to their staff on time throughout the year. Similarly, Press Information Department (PID) could be told to do the same for newspapers.
Detailing why journalists murderers were hardly ever arrested, Butt pointed to FIRs being weak and victims’ families not having the money to pursue investigations and deal with the police where bribery is a norm.
Saiful Islam Saifi, President of Khyber Union of Journalists (KhUJ) said journalists’ economic security was at the heart of all issues. Any legislation on physical and financial security of media persons must have involvement of all stakeholders right till the end.
He said issues facing media in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and FATA were different and therefore had to be dealt with differently. The participants were unanimous in pointing out that PFUJ, currently in a deep split, must be strengthened. “Today this union has a big responsibility on its shoulders and that is to bring unity within its ranks,” Nasir Zaidi said.
Shakeel Anjum, President National Press Club, thought the government was not serious in addressing issues the journalist fraternity faces. He said it was time to be practical and the unions and press clubs needed to compile accurate data on families of journalists killed and extend as much help to them as possible.
The NPC, he said, has given assistance to around 160 families of journalists since last year. “We are also starting endowment funds for journalists on our own. However, this is the responsibility of government as press clubs and unions have limitations,” he said.
“Financial condition of around 107 journalists, died in recent years, is miserable,” the president pointed adding it was high time for practical steps to ensure the economic safety of journalist and their families.
Media development specialist Adnan Rehmat focused on the three Ps – Policy (what is the consensus), Procedure (what mechanism exists), and Practice (making use of laws that exist). He said that every 48th day in the past 15 years, a journalist has been killed in Pakistan.
Rehmat regretted the government had no mechanism to provide protection and support to journalists. Similarly, media owners also had no mechanism in place and no safety protocols. He also drew attention of the house to the definition of a journalist in the proposed Media Safety Bill that may not include media workers like a driver of DSNG, or engineer.
Sharing his views on the occasion, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) CRS Aniq Zafar highlighted the need to focus on the economic security of families of journalists killed or displaced in Pakistan. “Lot has been discussed about physical safety of journalists but the economic aspect remains far from hitting the spotlight. There is no mechanism of disbursement of funds available with relevant departments and unions.”
Elaborating on the objectives of the consultative meeting, the CEO said such initiatives aimed to bring all key stakeholders together. In the light of stakeholders’ guidance and input, the key recommendations would be put forth for policymakers, he said.
Senior journalist at Voice of America (VOA) Shamim Shahid demanded that investigations into the murders of Hayatullah Khan, Musa Khan Khel and other journalists should be made public, which, he said, would be helpful in safeguarding the lives of other journalists. Faisal Rehman from state-run PTV said Khyber Pakhtunkhwa moderated the session.