Journalism in Pakistan 2019: Layoffs, censorship, violence

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In this file photo, Pakistani journalists and civil society activists hold placards during a protest in Karachi on Oct. 28, 2017. (AFP)
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Journalists chant slogans during a rally against layoffs and the non-payment of salaries in Karachi, Feb. 26, 2019. (Reuters/ File Photo)
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Updated 01 January 2020

Journalism in Pakistan 2019: Layoffs, censorship, violence

  • Over 3105 media workers lost their jobs in 2019, says KUJ
  • Despite declining violent crime rates, violence against journalists is on the rise

KARACHI: Shakir Ali never thought that one day he would have to throw out his pen and start stitching shoes to make a living. He used to work as an editor of an Urdu-language daily in Karachi.

“All of a sudden, I was told that a financial crunch didn’t allow the newspaper to hire me anymore,” Ali told Arab News. From Nawa-e-Waqt he moved to his brother’s factory and became a cobbler.

According to the Karachi Union of Journalist (KUJ), 3105 media workers – mostly journalists – lost their jobs in 2019.

“Several journalists have become living corpses as they have nothing to support their families,” said Shoaib Ahmed, assistant secretary-general of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ).

Pakistani journalists have been increasingly exposed to violence despite declining violent crime rates across the country. According to a recent report by the Freedom Network, an independent Pakistani media watchdog, at least 33 journalists were murdered in reprisal for their work in the past six years. Eight of them were killed between November 2018 and November 2019.

According to the report, not a single perpetrator was brought to justice, with “mysterious,” “nameless and unidentified actors” becoming the biggest threat to the lives of on-duty journalists.

KUJ president Hasan Abbas said journalism had never been an easy task in Pakistan, especially since the late 1970s, with the ascent of military dictator Zia-ul-Haq, under whom the state started to exert control over the media. 

“Imran Khan’s government, however, has caused the biggest blow to the media in Pakistan’s history, leaving thousands of journalists unemployed,” Abbas said.

For a week and to no avail, Arab News has been requesting comment from Firdous Ashiq Awan, the prime minister’s special assistant on information and broadcasting.

However, speaking at a National Assembly’s meeting on broadcasting earlier this month, Awan said the government believes in the freedom of expression and press, as guaranteed by the Constitution. “Media has the right to criticize the government’s policies, but it should act more responsibly when the interests of the state are involved,” a state-run radio station quoted her as saying

During the meeting, she also asked for the formation of a committee that would formulate a strategy to protect the rights of on-duty journalists.

Meanwhile, media owners blame the government for the industry’s deplorable economic condition, partly relating it to a decline in state advertising.

“There is a sharp decline of up to 50 percent in federal and provincial governments’ advertising, while private sector advertisements have declined between 30 and 40 percent, forcing media owners to unwillingly lay off workers,” Sarmad Ali, secretary-general of the All Pakistan Newspaper Society (APNS), told Arab News. He added that huge outstanding payments from the governments remain due, only aggravating the situation.

However, Freedom Network executive director Iqbal Khattak said that since this is not the first crisis, it could have been handled by media organizations without sacking journalists. “Instead of laying off journalists’ media groups may have reduced the number of pages to save money on print,” he said.

The year has greatly affected the quality of Pakistani journalism as well.

“An unpaid journalist would care more about his financial problems instead of concentrating on quality and doing efforts for freedom of the press. With journalists surrounded by their own problems, there is hardly any debate about censorship and this is dangerous for journalism,” said senior journalist Mazhar Abbas.

“If the situation persists, the ultimate losers will be journalists and journalism,” he said.

However, while the economic situation may silence some voices, established journalists, even when sacked from their jobs, will continue to assess and censure the government and its policies. 

Citing censorship and following the closure of several private channels, many renowned TV journalists such as Talat Hussain, Matiullah Jan, and Najam Sethi moved to YouTube and other social media platforms, where they can criticize the government even more severely.

Pakistan ‘used and binned’ by England over canceled tour

Updated 21 September 2021

Pakistan ‘used and binned’ by England over canceled tour

  • The British High Commissioner to Pakistan confirmed the decision was taken on the grounds of player welfare
  • Pakistan’s cricket chief says ‘a little bit of caring was needed after the New Zealand pull out and we didn’t get that from England’

LONDON: Pakistan Cricket Board chairman Ramiz Raja said on Tuesday he felt “used and then binned” after England canceled a white-ball tour for their men’s and women’s teams next month.
The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) cited “increasing concerns about traveling to the region” just days after New Zealand also pulled out of a tour to Pakistan over security concerns.
However, the British High Commissioner to Pakistan, Christian Turner, confirmed the decision was taken by the ECB on the grounds of player welfare.
The first trip by the England men’s side to Pakistan since 2005 was only meant to last four days with two Twenty20 matches in Rawalpindi on October 13 and 14.
Two women’s T20 matches were scheduled on the same days as double-headers with three women’s one-day internationals to follow in the same city.
Reaction to the withdrawal in Pakistan has been furious.
Pakistan traveled to England last year at a time when COVID-19 infection rates in Britain were among the highest in the world for a three-match Test and T20 series that saved the ECB millions in television rights deals.
“It’s the feeling of being used and then binned. That’s the feeling I have right now,” Raja told reporters.
“A little bit of hand-holding, a little bit of caring was needed after the New Zealand pull out and we didn’t get that from England which is so frustrating.
“We’ve been going out of our way to meet the international demands, being such a responsible member of the cricketing fraternity, and in return we get a response from ECB saying the players were spooked by New Zealand’s withdrawal. What does that mean?“
New Zealand officials refused to give details of the security threat that forced them to abruptly cancel their matches.
A deadly 2009 attack on the Sri Lanka team bus in Lahore saw Pakistan become a no-go destination for international teams.
In 2012 and 2015 Pakistan hosted England in the UAE, which has staged most of their “home” games since the attack.
A rapid improvement in security in recent years has led to the return of international cricket, with Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka, the West Indies, South Africa and Bangladesh touring in the past six years.
“I share the deep sadness of cricket fans that England will not tour Pakistan in October,” Turner said in a video post on Twitter. “This was a decision made by the ECB, which is independent of the British government, based on concerns for player welfare.
“The British High Commission supported the tour; did not advise against it on security grounds; and our travel advice for Pakistan has not changed.”
The series was supposed to be part of the preparation for England’s men ahead of next month’s T20 World Cup in the United Arab Emirates and Oman.
But many of their star players would now be free to play in the latter stages of the lucrative Indian Premier League, also being hosted in the UAE, should their sides reach the knockout phase.
“You are quoting fatigue and mental tension and players being spooked and a hour-and-a-half flight from here before a World Cup they are quite happy to be caged in a bubble environment and carry on with the tournament,” added Raja.
“One feels slighted, one feels humiliated because withdrawal doesn’t have an answer.”
The ECB’s decision has also been met with fierce criticism at home.
“They had a chance to repay a debt, uphold their honor and side with a cricketing nation that has undergone the kind of challenges others cannot even begin to contemplate,” former England Test captain Michael Atherton wrote in The Times.
“Instead, citing a mealy-mouthed statement, they did the wrong thing.”

PM Khan says Afghanistan’s ‘strong’ women will assert rights under Taliban rule

Updated 21 September 2021

PM Khan says Afghanistan’s ‘strong’ women will assert rights under Taliban rule

  • The Pakistani prime minister says absence of an inclusive government in Afghanistan may lead to a civil war
  • Khan warns the world community that an unstable Afghanistan will be an ‘ideal place for terrorists’

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan said on Tuesday Afghan women were “very strong” and likely to assert their right under the Taliban rule.
Khan was responding to a question about the rights of women in Afghanistan after the fall of the US-backed Ashraf Ghani administration and the emergence of the Taliban regime during an interview with the BBC.
Women were not allowed to work and girls could not go to school when the conservative Afghan faction came into power between 1996 and 2001.
While the Taliban have said they will not implement their previous policies, they recently closed the Ministry of Women’s Affairs in Kabul and replaced it with the Ministry for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice.
“Their women are very strong,” the Pakistani prime minister told the British news channel. “I feel give them time and they will assert their rights.”
Asked how much time would be required for that to happen, he said: “A year, two years, three years ... It’s too early to say anything because it has just barely been a month. After 20 years of civil war, they have come back into power.”

A Taliban fighter watches as Afghan women hold placards during a demonstration demanding better rights for women in front of the former Ministry of Women Affairs in Kabul on September 19, 2021. (AFp)

Khan said his biggest worry about the situation in Afghanistan related to a possible humanitarian disaster that could lead to another refugee influx in the region.
He reiterated it was important for the Taliban to form an inclusive government since Afghanistan could witness another civil war if all the factions in the country did not get a stake in its governance and administration.
The prime minister also warned that an “unstable and chaotic Afghanistan” was going to be an “ideal place for terrorists.”

Pakistani exporters complain of high freight charges amid global supply chain disruption

Updated 21 September 2021

Pakistani exporters complain of high freight charges amid global supply chain disruption

  • Global shipping charges have increased by about 500 percent since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic
  • Pakistani exporters want the government to activate the National Shipping Corporation to address the situation

KARACHI: Pakistani exporters on Tuesday complained about global supply chain disruption, saying their shipments were becoming more expensive due to the unavailability of containers which was leading to much higher freight charges.
The global supply chain industry is yet to recover from the impact of lockdowns imposed by countries since the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The container movement primarily become difficult due to the congestion at major ports in countries like the United States and China, resulting in significant rise in shipping costs worldwide.
“Exporters are worried since ships and containers are not available and freight cost has increased manifold,” Jawed Bilwani, chief coordinator of the Pakistan Hosiery Manufacturers and Exporters Association, told Arab News. “The containers that used to be only a phone call away are now made available after 20 days or more which delays our shipments. It also doubles our cost.”
Pakistani exporters said the availability of containers had become a major challenge to their businesses.
“The shipping line business is concentrated in a few hands, and these people are taking full advantage of the prevailing situation,” Khurram Mukhtar, patron-in-chief of the Pakistan Textile Exporters Association, said.
Local exporters informed freight charges had increased by 200 and 500 percent for 40- and 20-foot containers, respectively, since the emergence of the pandemic.
The cost of the 20-foot container from Karachi to the United States has increased from $5,157 to $7,685 since May, while its price for the month of October is quoted at $8,500.
Similarly, the 40-foot container price increased from $6,439 to $9,760 between May and September. The shipping line businesses plan to charge $10,800 for it starting next month.
Pakistani shipping experts believe the situation will not improve anytime soon and may take at least a year to get back to the pre-pandemic level.
“The pressure on global supply chain is mounting and there is no immediate solution in sight,” Mohammed A. Rajpar, chairman of the Pakistan Ships Agents Association, told Arab News.
He said that ships used to complete their full cycle from east to west and west to east in four to six weeks before the COVID-19 outbreak, but this duration went up to three to six months under the current circumstances.
He added that many shipping lines had also stopped their operations worldwide and scrapped their ships.
“New ships have been ordered and that will take at least two years to be delivered. New containers have also been ordered by companies,” Rajpar said.
Amid the aggravating situation, Pakistani exporters said the government should intervene by mobilizing the National Shipping Corporation, the national flag carrier and state-owned shipping company.
“All relevant ministries of the country must immediately intervene by taking necessary measures to safeguard the country’s exports,” the patron-in-chief of the Pakistan Textile Exporters Association said. “The government may dedicate its shipping corporation for export and import purposes for now.”
Pakistani exporters said they had been forced to pay demurrage — a charge applied to containers that are left at the port longer than their allotted free time — for the first time due to the ongoing shipping problems.

Cricketers say UK, NZ pullouts ‘huge setback’ to reviving international cricket in Pakistan

Updated 21 September 2021

Cricketers say UK, NZ pullouts ‘huge setback’ to reviving international cricket in Pakistan

  • England on Monday announced to postpone the Pakistan trip after New Zealand called off its series last week without playing a match
  • The Pakistan Cricket Board says it will seek compensation from New Zealand for recalling the team on the basis of a vague security alert

KARACHI: Pakistani cricketers and sports experts on Tuesday said the announcement by England to postpone its Pakistan tour after New Zealand’s decision to abruptly call off its series without playing a single match was a “huge setback” to the revival of international cricket in the country.
One of the top cricketing nations that lifted world cup trophies in the past, Pakistan regularly hosted test playing teams and international tournaments until a group of militants targeted the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore in 2009.
In the coming years, the cricket-crazy South Asian nation was deprived of watching international teams in action in their own country.
“It is a huge setback to the efforts of reviving international cricket in Pakistan,” Umar Gul, a former Pakistani pacer, said while urging the International Cricket Council (ICC) to take notice and prevent teams from taking such unilateral decisions.
Zimbabwe sent its team to visit Pakistan in 2015, though no major cricketing squad visited the country after the 2009 attack.
Some high-profile international players started playing in the country, however, after the launch of the Pakistan Super League (PSL) tournament.
This resulted in a change of international perception regarding Pakistan’s security environment, making international cricket squads like New Zealand and England agree to tour the country after more than a decade.
“The decision of these two teams to abandon their tour of the country will negatively impact Pakistan’s own preparations for the world cup,” Gul told Arab News. “It also has financial implications. Besides, it will harm our efforts to revive international cricket in the country despite making best security arrangements.”

This picture taken on September 7, 2017 shows pigeons resting on a sign for the Pakistan Cricket Board at the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore, Pakistan. (AFP/File)

A Pakistani sports show host, Shoaib Jatt, called England’s decision to postpone its Pakistan series unjustified while pointing out that his country’s own team had visited the United Kingdom when the tour was considered highly dangerous by medical experts due to the prevalence of COVID-19.
“It is definitely a blow to Pakistan,” he said. “It is not about losing one or two cricket series. We are talking about the revival of international cricket for which a lot of effort has been made.”
Qamar Ahmed, a cricket expert and former first-class player, maintained that PSL had made a huge contribution in bringing back international cricket to Pakistan, though he added the recent refusals of New Zealand and England to play in Pakistan were not going to be helpful.
“It has been more than a decade since the Sri Lankan team came under attack in Lahore,” Ahmed said. “It will take several more years to revive international cricket in this country after the decisions made by New Zealand and England.”
Gul said, however, Pakistan was a resilient nation which would come out much stronger from the recent crisis.
“We have a good world cup team,” he maintained. “If they play well, it may change the situation for us.”
The new chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board Ramiz Raja recently said in a video message that his country would seek compensation from New Zealand for abandoning its Pakistan tour on the basis of vague security threats.
While New Zealand Cricket (NZC) did not respond to request for comment, its chief executive David White told a sports website in his own country that he was hopeful that Pakistan and New Zealand would be able to “work through” their concerns in the coming days.
“We’ve got a very close working relationship with Pakistan Cricket,” White said.
The English Cricket Board (ECB) shared a statement with Arab News, saying the ECB had a longstanding commitment to tour Pakistan but had postponed its visit after careful deliberations.
“The ECB Board convened this weekend to discuss these extra England Women’s and Men’s games in Pakistan and we can confirm that the Board has reluctantly decided to withdraw both teams from the October trip,” the statement read, adding that the mental and physical well-being of players and support staff remained the highest priority.
However, a leading Pakistani cricketer Muhammad Hafeez pointed out that his own team members had also been playing in tough conditions and under huge mental stress.
“The decision of New Zeeland and England cricket teams to withdraw is very painful for me as a cricketer. We have completed difficult tours where the conditions were not very good at all, but we did not quit,” he told Arab News, adding that the Green Shirts had to complete a 15-days quarantine period during their last tour to England.
“All the hardships are borne for cricket, the gentlemen’s game which demands great sportsman’s spirit. A hoax threat alert should not have been the reason for anyone to call off a series,” he added.

Taliban appreciate PM Khan for playing positive role for Afghan peace

Updated 21 September 2021

Taliban appreciate PM Khan for playing positive role for Afghan peace

  • The Taliban deputy information minister says Kabul is 'heading towards an inclusive government'
  • Zabihullah Mujahid says Pakistan, Qatar and China are striving for Afghanistan's better political future

ISLAMABAD: Afghanistan's deputy information minister and the Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid praised Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan's efforts for peace and inclusive government in his country while addressing a news conference in Kabul on Tuesday.

Pakistan has been trying to convince regional countries and other members of the international community to continue their engagement with Afghanistan since the Taliban consolidated their political control in the neighboring state in August.

The Pakistani prime minister informed in his recent Twitter posts he had initiated a dialogue with the Taliban to form a more inclusive administration after a lengthy meeting with Tajikistan's President Emomali Rahmon in Dushanbe last week.

"We do not see the positive statements of Prime Minister Imran Khan as interference in the internal matters of Afghanistan," Mujahid was quoted by Pakistan's Express Tribune newspaper on Tuesday.

"The spokesperson further added that Pakistan, Qatar and China were playing an active role for stability in Afghanistan," said the news report.

Mujahid maintained the cabinet formation was still an ongoing process and the Taliban were "heading towards an inclusive government."

"More people from different ethnicities including Hazaras, technocrats and educated people have been inducted in the interim cabinet. The cabinet formation is not complete yet and more people will also be included in it," he added.

Pakistan's foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi has also reached New York to discuss the situation in Afghanistan at the United Nations General Assembly and urge the world to prevent the economic implosion in the war-battered country since it could lead to a humanitarian disaster.