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Pakistan's Journalists in Jeopardy

Pakistan -- People carry a coffin containing the dead body of journalist Syed Salim Shahzad at Karachi airport, 01Jun2011
Pakistan -- People carry a coffin containing the dead body of journalist Syed Salim Shahzad at Karachi airport, 01Jun2011

The following is excerpted from an article in the Index on Censorship by Daoud Khan Khattack, a journalist with Radio Mashaal, RFE's Pakistan service.

Not only are journalists being harassed, kidnapped, tortured and killed by the warring sides — the Taliban, sectarian groups and the intelligence agencies — but they are also exploited by their employers by paying them low salaries and no benefits like life and health insurance.

The single biggest proof of their exploitation is the continuous refusal of newspapers owners to implement the seventh Wage Board Award meant to revive and re-adjust salaries of working journalists in accordance with the ratio of inflation and cost of living in Pakistan.

“Both the government and employers are exploiting the journalists,” says Afzal Butt, President of the Islamabad Press Club. The ‘corrupt’ government refrains from forcing the newspaper owners to implement the Wage Board Award only to avoid criticism of its policies in the media, he added.

Journalists in Pakistan also don’t have any job security and in many cases, they are working more than usual hours without getting salaries for months.

“80 per cent of journalists are underpaid with no duty schedule,” says Afzal Butt who added that the average salary for a journalist is 10,000 to 15,000 (equal to $120 – 150) a month. Equally disturbing is the working environment where the employees are not allowed annual or sick leaves as allowed under the Labour Laws.

Besides, journalists also don’t have job security. They are often fired from jobs without prior notice as the majority of newspapers employ reporters and other staffers without offering proper employment contracts.

Working in such an environment, journalists have no option but to involve themselves in risky assignments hence getting more from the international media. Syed Saleem Shahzad was an example.

Almost all parts of Pakistan, and all groups, are equally insecure and dangerous for journalists. While the threat from the country’s security agencies is ever present, the nature of threat varies from area to area depending on the situation and people living there.

What is the solution? And how can journalists ensure their safety?

“Impossible”, said Afzal Butt while expressing his dismay over the prevailing situation. However, he added: “We will firmly hold the banner advocating freedom of expression despite the chopping of our hands and the sealing of our mouths from time to time.”

Click here for the Committee to Protect Journalists report, Attacks on the Press 2010.