Thursday July 18, 2024

Eid: Media workers awaiting salaries

By Javad M Goraya
May 15, 2020

ISLAMABAD: With only six working days left till Eid ul Fitr, no visible signs are there as to whether the new Information Minister Senator Shibli Faraz will be able to meet the commitment with hard pressed media workers to release media dues towards the government before Eid.

The settlement of media dues was committed by the prime minister as part of the Corona Relief Package announced in his press conference on March 24. Adviser on Finance Dr Hafeez Shaikh in his press conference next day reiterated that we will settle media dues at earliest as per directions of the prime minister under Corona Relief Package. Dr Hafeez Shaikh urged then minister in-charge of information at the press conference to settle details and forward the case to his ministry.

All other sectors have received relief under PM Corona Relief Package barring media despite repeated assurance and lacs of coronavirus deaths globally and unfortunate loss of life in Pakistan. Around 100 media workers have already been tested positive in Pakistan while performing their duties and are hard pressed to meet expenses for treatment. Media workers are not paid salaries for up to six months and media organisations are badly struggling to meet even basic operational expenses.

The maltreatment of Pakistan media has continued in face of worst possible crisis in which Pak media could have played an even better role. Be it economic meltdown, Kashmir, Indian aggression and novel coronavirus, no relief has been provided. Australian Communications Minister Paul Fletcher in mid-April announced a package of nearly $100 million for Australian media to offset the losses due to coronavirus. Other countries have provided relief in similar manner to its media industry. Indian News Broadcasters Association (NBA) faces similar issues due to COVID-19 crisis and have demanded of its government a relief package including clearance of media dues, increase in tariff and increase in government advertising. The main reason given by Indian News Broadcasters Association is severe drop in collections against private sector advertising after lockdowns. The US$266 billion package announced by the Indian government this week provides relief to Indian media industry as well.

Meanwhile, our state broadcaster PTV has been allowed an increase of Rs65 per consumer in license fee which it collects from electricity bills. This new decision means a revenue increase of Rs14 billion for the state-run TV.

Such handling of Pakistan media belies the government’s international position that level-playing field is provided to the media industry in Pakistan. In the latest rankings of Media Freedom by Reporters Without Borders, Pakistan media has slipped to number 145 out of 180 countries.

Pakistan Media financial crisis aggravated with 70% reduction in government rates of TV channels after PTI government took over and over 50% drop in advertising by government and private sector due to economic slowdown since August 2018.

Owners and workers’ media organisations, PBA, APNS and PFUJ, ran a joint media campaign informing government of the financial crisis and demanded clearance of its dues of over Rs6 billion. The prime minister formed a committee, including Education Minister Shafqat Mahmood and then the SAPM information and other members, to resolve the media industry issues. The media organisations thoroughly briefed the committee about its issues and recommendation were firmed up under this committee.

After taking over, Senator Shibli Faraz, new Minister Informed has repeatedly assured media workers that the dues will be cleared before Eid. Reportedly Senator Shibli Faraz met seniors at the Ministry of Finance and shared the prime minister’s intent to clear media dues to ease industry woes. However, the follow up action concerned ministries to release payment is still awaited.

The media organisation like PBA and APNS have already assured the Ministry of Information and PM committee that the dues once received from the government will be used first to clear all dues of media workers. They even offered authentication by workers’ bodies like PFUJ. With every passing day, it’s becoming very challenging to provide relief to media workers before Eid as the Ministry of Finance after receipt of final recommendation of Ministry of Information will take its time to release payment to PBA/APNS. Media organisations have their own process to release it to its members and then individual TV channels and newspapers will need time to release it to media workers. On average, media workers have salary arrears of up to six months and their packages have already been slashed and a large number have lost their jobs. Like others, the media workers are also facing hike in utility bills, cost of living and higher income tax slabs.

The media industry financial crisis has worsened due to COVID-19 crisis as private sector recoveries have dried up due to cash flow issues due to low or nil sales.