KARACHI: Federal and provincial ministers, leaders of different political parties, senior journalists and civil society representatives came together to discuss the state of press freedom and the present media crisis in the country at a seminar here on Saturday.

The programme, which was organised by the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) in collaboration with the Karachi Union of Journalists (KUJ), also featured the launch of a PFUJ book titled From Layoffs to Lashes: PFUJ’s 70-Year Fight for Media Freedom.

While the journalist fraternity highlighted the need for building a united front against all the injustices and for documenting the same besides demanding legislation for journalists’ protection, senior political leaders called the present situation ‘the times of hopelessness’ and said it was the government responsibility to ensure media freedom that the constitution guaranteed.

Former governor of Sindh and Pakistan Mus­lim League-Nawaz leader Mohammad Zubair said the Constitution guaranteed media freedom, “but freedom is to be determined and supported by the rulers. If the government wants to see Pakistan prosper, it should at least show support to the media”.

“As for the media’s part in supporting democracy, it also needs to highlight the struggle of all political parties and not mute the PML-N struggle now when it had covered Imran Khan’s sit-in when the PTI was not in power,” he said.

From Layoffs to Lashes: PFUJ’s 70-Year Fight for Media Freedom launched

PFUJ President Shahzada Zulfiqar lamented that the government was still unable to catch the killers of slain journalists. PFUJ Secretary General Nasir Zaidi said the state’s “ignoring the Constitution” had ruined politics, trade unions and journalism “but we, all of us, remain united against the government’s crude actions”.

Dr Farooq Sattar of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) Restoration Committee said journalism was the fourth pillar of the state and should be respected as such. “I pray that in these times of hopelessness we can find the way forward instead of being dictated by divide and rule,” he said.

The PFUJ secretary general earlier expressed the hope that the PPP government in Sindh would try to solve the media’s problems on a priority basis and asked for setting up of a provincial implementation tribunal in the Sindh Assembly. He also asked the provincial government to pass journalists’ protection bill if the federal government was taking time in doing so.

Reading out PFUJ’s charter of demands, he also demanded a wage board award for contractual media employees. Another demand was to take lawful action against media house owners who did not pay dues to their employees.

About the journalists’ protection bill, Sindh Minister for Information Syed Nasir Hussain Shah vowed that it would be finalised and passed by the Sindh Assembly soon. “I will also ensure the setting up of a provincial implementation tribunal,” he said, adding that he had been directed earlier by PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari to meet all media house owners and request them to pay salaries to their employees on time and not fire them.

“On our part, we cleared all government dues to media houses… Now we are telling media houses that we will only give business to those among them that pay their workers and are not firing them,” he said.

The minister also assured the journalists that the PFUJ book would be sent to all government department libraries.

About Covid-19 vaccination, he said the field journalists such as reporters, press photographers and cameramen would be inoculated against the disease on a priority basis as they risked their lives by going out to report stories.

Senior journalist Hamid Mir remembered late press freedom fighter Minhaj Barna’s struggle and said “Barna’s struggle was relevant then and it is relevant now. We are lucky to still have amo­ngst us journalists like G.N. Mughal and Nasir Zaidi, whose medical checkup before being la­­shed in Ziaul Haq’s time showed that he was too weak to take the torture and hence should be excused, but he did receive the lashes on his own insistence.”

He said: “We are not new to struggles. We are hardened. Our senior journalists who offered their own arrests at Regal Chowk were just doing what they did for the freedom of press. Today again we need to build a united front like that against all the injustices that we are facing.”

Documentation

Senior journalist, columnist and news analyst Mazhar Abbas, who also headed the PFUJ’s book project, said he took his inspiration for doing work on the book from late Zamir Niazi. “Quite frankly, we are more into raising a hue and cry and chanting slogans and less into documentation,” he said.

“This book being launched here today is about the experiences of people who have carried out individual efforts for the uplift of freedom of information and the freedom of expression. They led from the front. Reading their accounts will tell you that freedom of the press didn’t happen just like that. Of course, you may find conflicting views as you go through the narratives, too. But From Layoffs to Lashes is an example of freedom of views,” he remarked.

Senior journalist and columnist G.N. Mughal from Hyderabad, who also contributed to the book, said seeing so many fractions within PFUJ had saddened him but the book made him happy. “Be one, move together from a common platform to be a union. You need to unite,” he said.

Mahnaz Rahman of Women Action Forum, who is also a senior journalist and widow of upholder of press freedom, Ahfaz-ur-Rehman, read out a portion of her contribution in the book about how the marketing department in newspapers was taking news space.

Earlier setting the ball rolling for the media fraternity present on the occasion, KUJ General Secretary Faheem Ahmed Siddiqui said the issues faced by the media in these past 70 years were still there.

Senior journalist Khurshid Abbasi, Ubaid­ullah of All Pakistan Newspapers Employees Confederation (Apnec), Salim Setho of Sukkur Union of Journalists, J. Prakash of Hyderabad Union of Journalists, Pakistan Bar Council member Advocate Shahadat Awan, Karachi Bar Association President Naeem Qureshi, Nasir Mansoor of National Trade Union Federation, Karamat Ali of Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research, Asad Butt of Human Right Commission of Pakistan, Secretary General of Pakistan Medical Association Dr Qaiser Sajjad, federal minister Syed Aminul Haq of the MQM, Usama of Jamaat-i-Islami, Pak Sarzameen Party General Secretary Hasaan Sabir, Shahi Syed of Awami National Party and Mohammad Sarwar Buledi also spoke.

Published in Dawn, February 7th, 2021

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