Tuesday October 19, 2021

PFUJ gives govt 3-month deadline to resolve media issues

January 16, 2021

LAHORE: The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) has given the government three months to take effective steps for resolving the journalists and media issues and deal with the worst ever suppression of the right to free press and expression that has severely compromised the independence of media in the country.

Government’s failure to engage with associations of journalists in the given time to develop a framework that can provide physical, economic and mental security to media persons will lead to nationwide protests, strikes and lockdowns, it said, adding that an immediate and formal dialogue to finalise legislation for the protection of journalists is a prerequisite.

“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. They only exacerbate them. PFUJ 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 2021.” The PFUJ General Secretary Nasir Zaidi announced these resolutions in a seminar in Lahore Friday, attended largely by journalists, human rights activists and lawyers.

Speaking on the occasion, veteran journalist and human rights champion IA Rehman said two journalists were killed in December alone. “Governments have always considered media a necessary evil but this government considers media an unnecessary evil. Freedom of expression is the right of every citizen. Media is the voice of the people. The past was beautiful. It has never been easy to uphold the truth but it is necessary to pursue this course. The right to expression comes first and then our economic rights. Fascism is casting long shadows. This too shall pass. Future is beautiful,” he said.

Veteran journalist and human rights champion Hussain Naqi said the country receives 15-20 billion dollar a year from Pakistanis overseas and that is how things are going on here. “At home thousands of workers are unemployed. We need a movement in Pakistan in which journalists, lawyers, students, trade unions and progressive forces join hands,” he said.

PFUJ President Shahzada Zulfiqar said crisis in media has aggravated in the last two years. 10-15 thousand journalists and media workers have lost jobs. Many media offices have closed in Quetta and Peshawar. They operate from press clubs with a reporter and a DSNG only. “Pakistan is now on 145th number from 142 on the Freedom of Media Index. Media Freedom Network has reported that 17 cases were lodged against journalists in the last six months,” he said.

Senior journalist and analyst Imtiaz Alam lauded PFUJ for keeping the struggle for rights alive. “Media has always remained in conflict with authority. If it comes in line with the state it cannot remain the voice of the people,” he said. Others who spoke on the occasion were Farooq Tariq of Huqooq-e-Khalq, Pir Syed Naubahar Shah, Chairman Shia Political Party, Ameer Khan Hoti, Advocate Abid Saqi, Advocate Hamid Khan, AUzma Bokhari of PML-N and Journalist Farhan Paracha.

In its statement, PFUJ noted that the government has consistently failed to deliver its commitment to free media and instead sitting 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 accomplice. This perception can only be undone with government’s effective actions to expedite the ongoing probes into such incidents and arrest and indict responsible individuals under anti-terrorism laws. Such actions are necessary to nurture an environment where journalists can function without fear of intimidation and harm to bring truth and facts to public, which is the only strong scaffolding to a democratic structure that is vibrant.”

The government’s unclear policy on the use of its publicity budget is one of the major reasons for economic ordeal of the journalists and media industry workers. As many as 8,000 journalists and media workers have lost their jobs over the past a 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. A complete sense of impunity, media managements and owners, have also encouraged them 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.

PFUJ also urged the government to immediately take measures to ensure 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.

Hamid Khan, President Lawyers’ Forum said these are difficult times for lawyers as well. “Shaukat Aziz case was ignored by media. I am his advocate in all the cases. There is no coverage. He was told if he complied, he would be given high position in judiciary. How can establishment direct a judge to form a bench and tell him about what judgement to give? How is justice possible?” he questions.

Hamid Khan was also lawyer of Waqar Seth, the judge presiding a 3-member bench that gave judgement to hang Musharraf. “His elevation as Supreme Court judge was due. Three judges superseded him. For one year the case was not heard in SC,” he said.

“Lawyers and journalists will remain together. We are with you, ready to help media owners and workers in their struggle for rights,” he said at the seminar organised by PFUJ.