Why PFUJ reunification is need of the hour?
It was important to involve some of the senior journalists and those who remained part of the struggle in most difficult times, when you are taking a decision for reunification of all the three factions of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), which has a history of 65 years, half of which fought from one platform till its first major division under General Ziaul Haq. Thus, it was a good news when representatives of three PFUJ factions met in Islamabad and agreed in principle to make PFUJ one strong unit.
Let us make a good beginning by observing August 2 as the Foundation Day of the PFUJ. It was formed on this day in 1950 in Karachi. Let us not allow anti-democratic forces to divide us as they never liked strong PFUJ. Our division has created too much space for the government, media houses, and anti-democratic forces to dictate and no one could fight from the position of weakness and the fact remained that we are quite weak, today.
It may not be an easy task as we do not have the kind of commitment, which was there in the past but everyone realised that there is no alternative to one PFUJ and also one All Pakistan Newspaper Employees Confederation (Apnec), if the media workers really want to re-establish their strength and credibility. It is very important to know as to why we became so weak despite increase in our overall strength.
We are once again facing a huge challenge to ensure safety of journalists. We have to display responsible journalism and media freedom, but due to division within the media houses as well as within the media organisations, it becomes far more difficult. Therefore, it is important to first trace the past of the PFUJ and why reunification is important. Today, we are living in an era of “National Reconciliation and Charter of Democracy,” essential for a way forward. Yes, it’s not easy and a lot of sincere effort is required but at least one should make a beginning. Unity should be based on PFUJ Constitution, professionalism and people’s right to know.
Journalists and government are always considered as adversaries but over the years, perhaps, we came too close to the government and its ministers, which brought adverse effects on professionalism. Secondly, with the passage of time the institution of professional editors was abolished and editors today, are either the owners themselves or have editors with hardly any power. Thirdly, the representatives of journalists and workers themselves divided as a result of which the struggle for better working conditions like implementation of Wage Board also suffered. If there were 58 unions in 1973, today, there are unions in only two media houses — Jang and Dawn groups. Lastly, we could have stopped or checked rising corruption within the community as we were divided and only concentrated in increasing the quantity and not quality of membership.
Thus, the efforts for reunification of all factions should be seen in the light of these factors. The presence of seniors was important as they were the one who had suffered for better tomorrow.
In the past, PFUJ was so a strong unit that on one strike call in 1970, not a single newspaper was published for 10 days, from April 16, 1970 till April 25, 1970. The struggle was not divided between right and left, but between right and wrong. It was because of the strength of the PFUJ, that they had been branded time and again as communists, Islamists, Bhuttoists, anti-Bhuttoists, only because of its struggle under every regime.
Pakistan’s media history and the kind of freedom, print and electronic media enjoyed today, is incomplete without PFUJ, whether it’s an era of military dictators or successive civilian regimes after the death of Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah.
Although, PFUJ, was formed on August 2, 1950 in a grand convention held at Khaliq Deena Hall, at M A Jinnah Road, with a welcome message from the first Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan and formally inaugurated by the than Foreign Minister Sir Zafarullah Khan, its initial working had already started in 1948.
The first President of the PFUJ was late Israr Ahmad and Secretary General late M A Shakoor. Among the other founding fathers includes big name in journalism like late Ahmad Ali Khan, late M A Zuberi, late Hamid Zuberi, late Ghayur ul Islam, late Ishtiaq Azhar (who later joined Information Department and politics), S R Lewis all were present in the first convention. Irrespective of their ideological differences they worked in unison for the cause of freedom of press, raising professional excellence and better working conditions in the newspapers.
The struggle which started from a ban on Times of Karachi, in 1948, was later led by towering figures like late Nisar Osmani, late Minhaj Barna, K G Mustafa (who led the movement in the than East Pakistan).
We have come a long way from the struggle of Pakistan Safety Act, Pakistan Press and Publication Ordinance. Under these two laws scores of newspapers, magazines were banned by successive regimes and journalists were imprisoned including some who were present in Saturday’s meeting.
Yes, there have been betrayals, violations of the Constitution, conspiracies, which over the years widened the internecine differences. The PFUJ struggle of 1948, 1961, 1974, 1978 and 2007, were historic but it is important to assess why instead of becoming stronger and stronger after getting the freedom of the press, we become weaker and weaker.
The landmark decision of “reunification,” was the outcome of months long deliberations in which senior journalists like Ziauddin Ahmad, who has been in this profession for 50 years, Hussain Naqi, who had suffered a lot during his 40/45 years of experience during which he had spent many years in prison, Nasir Zaidi and Khawar Naeem Hashmi, who were flogged during the journalists’ struggle in 1978 against General Ziaul Haq. Idrees Bakhtiar, a veteran journalist with over 40 years in this profession and regarded as one of the most respected journalist and at present President of his own faction of PFUJ.
The second generation was also present in the meeting. These include Pervez Shaukat, former President of PFUJ, ex Chairman APNEC and at present, representative of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) in Pakistan. Afzal Butt, President of his own faction of PFUJ, who also remained the President of National Press Club, and played a vital role in the struggle for freedom of the press, against General (R) Pervez Musharraf following the ban on TV channels on November 3, 2007, Khursheed Abbasi, Secretary General of the PFUJ with Afzal Butt, who also remained Secretary Karachi Press Club.
Since Rana Azeem, President of his own faction of PFUJ, who in the past had served as president of the Punjab Union of Journalists and Amin Yusuf, Secretary General, who in the past also remained on key positions in Karachi Press Club and KUJ/PFUJ were not present, their consent was sought by Ziauddin Ahmad and Nasir Zaidi respectively.
All these leaders signed the initial declaration and the three factions will now take up the matter in their respective Federal Executive Council and inform the committee by August 25. The committee also accepted Shaukat’s plea not to include Bakhtiar’s name in the main committee since he is the sitting President of his own faction. Bakhtiar stepped down without any hesitation.
Others who attended the meeting and provided assistance include Arshad Ansari, President of Lahore Press Club, Farooq Faisal, former President of National Press Club, Islamabad, Shafiq Awan, senior journalist.
I always believe that there should be one strong voice of journalists. There should be one strong voice of the workers. There should be one strong voice of the editors and there should also be one strong voice of the media owners as well.
But it is the journalist community, which can make the difference and history has given us an opportunity to unite, but with all sincerity, if we are really sincere in promoting healthy, professional and ethical journalism in Pakistan, this is the right time. If we stand divided, I am afraid it would give strength to non-professionals and would only strengthen non-democratic forces, that always want to see media as a house divided against itself.