THE Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists, which is celebrating its 70th anniversary this week, can look back on its history with both satisfaction and mortification. It has achieved a lot but has also lost much of its vigour due to factionalism within its ranks. The courageous decision to create an organisation dedicated to the ideals of a media free from bondage to the government — and Pakistan’s other powerful players — was itself an achievement. It was a difficult task because of Pakistan’s membership of Western military alliances; any mention of libertarian ideas was considered a communist plot. Yet the fact that the PFUJ not only survived but worked fearlessly under a unified, elected leadership is indeed a tribute to its founders’ vision and courage. Their aim was simple and non-controversial — to have a trade union dedicated to ensuring the implementation of Pakistani journalists’ professional rights and their economic well-being. One of its biggest achievements was getting an unwilling government to agree to the establishment of a body to categorise newspapers according to their financial strength and draw up pay scales for journalists. Set up in the early 1960s, the wage board has been giving its award every five years despite opposition from the owners’ lobby.

An event that is an intrinsic part of the PFUJ’s history was the countrywide strike in 1970, which was launched under the leadership of the late Minhaj Barna. While the strike was essentially for the grant of interim pay relief for all journalists, and was held after a ‘yes’ vote by PFUJ members, the general election due later that year cast its ominous shadow on the protest. Right-wing political parties portrayed it as a leftist plot and tried to sabotage the strike by instigating the newspaper industry’s non-journalist staff. One of the PFUJ’s controversial decisions in the aftermath of the strike was to form a vertical trade union — the All Pakistan Newspaper Employees Confederation — that included both journalists and non-journalists. This decision led to a gradual dilution of the PFUJ’s strength, with all bargaining power resting with APNEC. Now the PFUJ, for a variety of reasons, including personality-driven ambitions, stands divided in factions, several attempts at unity having failed. At a time when efforts are on to gag free expression, a united PFUJ is needed more than ever before. It is time common sense prevailed and all PFUJ factions realised it is only through journalists’ unity that press freedom can be collectively defended.

Published in Dawn, August 6th, 2020

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