By Masmoom Shahwani
Tales of corruption are not new and specific to a particular field in Pakistan. Whereas all the public and private institutions have been infested with the menace of corruption, and rightly been highlighted by the journalists and media, same holds true for media and the journalists, in Pakistan.
Like any other industry, media too is an industry that feeds on the commercials of the government and private enterprises. The history of media in Pakistan remains to be an history of disturbing duel between the dictators, autocrats and journalists for gaining more space for the expression and dissemination of truth and there is no denial to the positive role played by it so far in promotion of human rights, democratic governance and rule of law.
Until the Kargil War, Pakistan only had a state controlled television that would telecast news screened through the government lens. However, India had a very vibrant media that advocated the Indian stance robustly at international forums, creating a realization in the quarters in Pakistan to have private TV channels. Hence, the Pakistan Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) was established and news channels were allowed to function in the country. The establishment of PEMRA, in view of some political pundits, in itself was to hold a control over the dragon that was set free, to tame it down as and when required.
This move of the then dictatorial government presented an opportune occasion for the business tycoons to establish TV channels and mint money. Number of channels in the last one and half decade, consequently rose rapidly, so did the media workers.
The media owners, hence became the worst explicators of their workers across the country. Hundreds of journalists, who have lost their lives so far, fell victims owing to the voracious appetite of the TV channel owners. How can one forget the slain heros of Balochistan who fell down in the line of duty. Heartrending as it is, the slain workers were sent for reporting in quest of breaking news, in the conflict areas, spots of bomb explosions and other high risk zones, without safety kits and proper training and hence fell victim to the avarice of media owners.
Moreover, when it comes to the salaries of the reporters, cameramen, and other workers in media, according to a study, 85% of the media workers are working without a contracts and their salaries have been held by the media owners, forcing them into bonded labour. Being fired from job is a threat that hangs like a Damocles Sword on the heads of poor media workers in absence of implementable contracts.
No service structure, welfare schemes and job security exists for the workers of media in almost all the media houses. The owners of almost all newspapers, big and small, leaving one or two exception aside, are acting in an extreme capitalist fashion where they only provide subsistence salaries to their workers and keep them engaged in bonded labour as long as they live.
This worst economic exploitation of media workers goes unreported because the media workers’ complaints and their own grievances get no coverage and no space in the newspapers and the TV channels owned by the capitalists-cum-journalists. This has led to the moral corruption of majority of journalists. Of late, many interest groups, craving to have their propaganda say from a mouth of journalist, have devised a phrase: “Buy a journalist and have your words say,” in Pakistan. Surely, journalists are bought and sold by the political parties, strong interest groups, and business tycoons in Pakistan because of economic uncertainty in their lives. But there are very few anchors on the top who have such shabby market value and rest low ranking workers languish in utter economic misery.
Many media workers, in the conflict zones, feed on the sympathies of their primary groups and exploit the situation in their favour to win a scholarship or asylum or any other way to settle abroad. There are many examples of such ambitious players who have luckily made their way abroad but the goddesses of luck is not equally merciful to the great majority.
If the mess is to be rolled back in the media, Labour Laws in Pakistan have to be strengthened so that no media businessman is in a position to exploit workers in his industry. Labour courts should be economically accessible to the media workers to hold the media owners responsible for any acts of omission and commission and government should bound the media houses to provide job security, necessary training, service structure, chances of grooming and promotion within the media houses so that professionalism in media can be upheld in letter and spirit and respect for human life and fundamental human rights should be inculcated in the heads of media business moguls.
The writer is a freelance journalist based in Quetta and a former news reporter to many national English Dailies in Pakistan. He can be reached at: Masmoomshahwani@gmail.com