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 inflation at 13-year high as government raises fuel prices on IMF demand

Updated 7 sec ago

Pakistan inflation at 13-year high as government raises fuel prices on IMF demand

  • Economist says ‘surprising and worrisome’ inflation numbers would hit lower and middle-income segments
  • Industrialists, transporters say rising fuel costs make it difficult to keep the industries and vehicles running

KARACHI: Pakistan’s inflation rate increased to 21.3 percent in June, the highest in 13 years, after the government of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif raised prices of petroleum products by over 90 percent as prior action to meet International Monetary Fund's (IMF) conditions for the revival of $6 billion loan program. 

Inflation in Pakistan stood at 13.8 percent in May and 9.7 percent in June 2021. On a month-on-month basis, it increased by 6.3 percent in June as compared to an increase of 0.4 percent in the previous month, the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS) said.   

The South Asian country has thrice increased the prices of petrol and diesel, eventually taking the two commodities to Rs248.74 and Rs276.54 per litre respectively. since coming into power after ouster of the former Prime minister Imran Khan in April 2022. Former PM Imran Khan had frozen petroleum prices contrary to the conditions agreed with the IMF, which had increased the fuel subsidy amid rising oil prices in the international market.   

“Inflation numbers for June are indeed a surprise on the upside, especially the number of 32.01 percent on food inflation represented by Sensitive Price Index is worrisome,” Dr Khaqan Najeeb, former advisor to the Pakistani finance ministry, told Arab News.  

“We must also remember that the CPI number of 21.3 percent still does not account for the energy price increase of both electricity and gas as are expected from the first of July 2022. These numbers show elevated commodity prices seeping into Pakistan’s inflation as well as the adjustment of the rupee, which has been 30 percent (lower against dollar) in FY22.”   

Economists fear inflation in the country would go further up with the increase in freight and interest rates.   

“This inflation rate is too much. It will destroy the poor and even the middle-income segment of the country,” said Dr Ashfaque Hassan Khan, a senior economist.  

“Now when the transport charges will increase and the central bank will increase interest rates, food inflation will further jump up because everything in the agriculture sector is running on diesel from a tubewell to a tractor.”  

Dr Khan held the IMF loan facility responsible for higher inflation in Pakistan and termed it the "most brutal" program for any country. “The is the most brutal IMF program ever given to any country in the world.”     

The rising fuel costs have largely impacted operations of public transport in Pakistan, but transporters are reluctant to increase fares as they fear the public wrath.   

“The rising fuel costs have devastated the transport sector as the situation is leading to suspension of operations. We are unable to further raise fares to match the fuel price hike due to dwindling purchasing power of poor masses who travel via public transport,” Irshad Bukhari, president of Karachi transport alliance, told Arab News.   

“People from working class are struggling with their limited income to survive. We have raised fares by Rs10 but now it is becoming tough to further raise the fares as people may resort to violence against transporters.”   

Pakistani industrialists face the brunt of fuel price hike at a time when the country’s commercial hub is facing unprecedented power outages.   

“The cost of production is running out of control due to the substantial increase in energy prices and majority of industries are keeping the mills running through power generators that burn petrol and diesel,” Muhammad Idrees, president of Karachi Chambers of Commerce and Industry (KCCI), told Arab News.   

“We are analyzing the true impact of energy rate hikes on businesses and will come up with the exact data. It is getting difficult to timely honor export orders due to rising costs of production as compared to the rates at the time of booking of orders.”   

Economists say the government must ensure a smooth supply of food products to contain the sufferings of the lower-income groups.  

“Moving forward, the government has to ensure that the supply side, especially of perishable and non-perishable goods, is maintained so that citizens who spend more than half of their income on food are protected,” Najeeb said.   

“It is highly important to manage the rate of monetary expansion to low double digits as well as to ensure the supply of cheaper fuels and conservation measures in the country.” 

Pakistan’s central bank is scheduled to announce its monetary policy next week, which majority of experts believe would raise the policy rate.     

“As per the survey, 80 percent of the participants expect an increase in policy rate in the upcoming monetary policy,” Topline Securities, a Karachi-based brokerage house, said on Friday. 

“Around 45 percent of the participants expect policy rate to increase by 100bps (basis points), 30 percent anticipate an increase of 150bps and 5 percent expect an increase of more than 150bps.” 

Pakistan’s top court orders re-election for Punjab chief minister’s post on July 22

Updated 01 July 2022

Pakistan’s top court orders re-election for Punjab chief minister’s post on July 22

  • All parties agree Hamza Shehbaz will stay as Punjab CM till July 17
  • CM Shehbaz says he has 'nothing to hide,' accepts the court verdict

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s top court on Friday directed authorities to hold a re-election for the post of Punjab chief minister on July 22, local media reported, a day after a high court ordered a recount of votes for the election held in April.   

The Lahore High Court (LHC) on Thursday ordered a recount of votes for the April 16 election which was won by Hamza Shehbaz, ruling the votes of 25 dissident lawmakers of the opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party who voted for Shehbaz would not be counted. 

The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) de-seated these 25 lawmakers in May for deviating from the party’s policy and voting for Shehbaz in the election for CM's slot.   

The PTI challenged the high court’s verdict in the Supreme Court on Friday and after much back-and-forth, all parties to the case — the PTI, the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) and Shehbaz —agreed to the chief minister’s election on July 22 and that Shehbaz would stay as the CM till July 17.  

"The apex court issued the verbal order as a three-member bench, headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Umar Ata Bandial and comprising Justice Ijazul Ahsan and Justice Jamal Khan Mandokhail, took up the petition filed earlier today," Dawn news website reported. 

Shehbaz told reporters outside the court that the CM's election would be held five days after the July 17 by-polls for the Punjab Assembly seats that fell vacant after the ECP de-seated 25 PTI members.   

“I told them [Supreme Court judges] that this is acceptable to me,” CM Shehbaz said. “I have nothing to hide.”  

Shehbaz, a member of the now ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party, got 197 votes in the chief minister's election but was left with the support of 172 members in the house after the disqualification of the 25 MPs. 

The high court’s verdict had said if the required majority for Shehbaz, which is 186 votes in the 371-member house, was not secured, the election would be held again under Article 130(4), unless another candidate secured majority votes.  

Article 130(4) says in the second round of voting, a member would not require 186 votes but simply needed a majority of those “present and voting” to be elected the chief minister.  

The top post in Punjab had fallen vacant after the resignation of former Punjab chief minister Usman Buzdar, a close aide of PTI leader Imran Khan, in early April. 

Much of political drama has since surrounded the coveted post in the country's most populous and resourceful province. 

Congo virus threat looms in southwest Pakistan ahead of Eid Al-Adha

Updated 01 July 2022

Congo virus threat looms in southwest Pakistan ahead of Eid Al-Adha

  • Pakistan’s southwestern Balochistan province reported four cases of Congo virus in the month of June
  • Cattle markets being fumigated to curb virus spread, animals vaccinated against lumpy skin disease

QUETTA: The number of Congo virus cases could rise in the southwestern Pakistani province of Balochistan ahead of Eid Al-Adha, a top health official said on Friday, weeks after the province reported four cases of the virus. 

Crimean-Congo Hemorrhagic Fever, or Congo virus, is an infectious disease transmitted by ticks to humans and animals. These ticks can be found on the skin of goats, sheep, cows, buffalos and camels that are sacrificed by Muslims during the Islamic festival of Eid Al-Adha. 

The disease, which is still endemic in Africa and parts of Asia, has a high fatality rate of 10-40 percent, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). 

This undated file photo shows the premises of the Fatima Jinnah Chest Hospital in Quetta, in Pakistan's Balochistan province. (Photo courtesy: social media)

Balochistan last month reported at least 16 suspected cases of the virus, of which four people tested positive who were treated at the Fatima Jinnah Chest Hospital in the provincial capital of Quetta.  

"Sixteen suspicious Congo cases were brought to the Fatima Jinnah Hospital. Two of them were in critical condition who were discharged in the last week of June," Dr Saqiq Baloch, the hospital's medical superintendent, told Arab News. 

"Following the imminent threat of Congo, we are prepared to handle any emergency-like situation and have urged livestock officials to fumigate cattle markets with anti-Congo spray." 

Just like elsewhere in the Muslim world, people have been preparing for Eid Al-Adha, one of the two biggest religious festivals in the Islamic calendar, and buying animals to offer as sacrifice. 

With the influx of livestock traders from Sindh and Punjab provinces, the threat of a spread of Congo virus and other diseases has also increased in Balochistan. 

The Balochistan Livestock Department has intensified fumigation across the province against the Congo virus and deputed teams at entrances to the province to check and administer lumpy skin disease (LSD) vaccines to animals. 

“A total of 8,150 cases of LSD have been reported in many districts of the province, particularly those bordering Sindh and Punjab, since the outbreak was first reported in Pakistan,” said Dr Jumma Babar, director of the Balochistan Animal Health Department. 

"The Animal Health Department has started a mass vaccination campaign in Lasbela, Uthal and Jaffarabad districts that has been effective in controlling the spread of the disease." 

Prevalent in Africa since 1929, LSD is transmitted by bloodsucking insects like ticks and mosquitoes. It does not affect people and is rarely fatal. In Pakistan, LSD was first reported in animals in the Punjab province in October 2021. 

Khuda Buksh, 40, who came to main cattle market in Quetta to buy animals, said previously they only heard of the Congo virus, but this Eid season they have been hearing about LSD too, which is why a majority people are buying small animals. 

“We have seen people splashing spray on animals in the market and hope this would be helpful in eradicating the disease among sacrificial animals,” Buksh told Arab News. 

Muhammad Yousuf, a 38-year-old trader who brought with him 35 cattle from Sindh's Jacobabad district, said they await customers throughout the day, but a majority of people is interested in buying goats and sheep instead of cows and buffaloes. 

“We haven’t heard about this animal pox disease before, but many customers here keenly observe the cattle skin. This would impact our business this Eid season,” Yousuf said. 

Indian court orders BJP spokeswoman to 'apologise to whole nation' over anti-Islam remarks

Updated 01 July 2022

Indian court orders BJP spokeswoman to 'apologise to whole nation' over anti-Islam remarks

  • Anger engulfed Islamic world last month after Nupur Sharma's incendiary comments during a TV debate
  • Nearly 20 countries called in their Indian ambassadors for explanation, rallies erupted around South Asia

NEW DELHI: A ruling party spokeswoman whose remarks on Islam embroiled India in a diplomatic row and sparked huge protests should apologize for having “set the country on fire,” New Delhi’s top court said Friday. 

Anger engulfed the Islamic world last month after Nupur Sharma’s incendiary comments during a TV debate on the relationship between the Prophet Muhammad and his youngest wife, with nearly 20 countries calling in their Indian ambassadors for an explanation. 

Rallies also erupted around South Asia, with police killing two demonstrators in India, while this week two Muslim men were accused of the grisly murder of a Hindu tailor who had posted in support of Sharma on Facebook. 

“She and her loose tongue have set the country on fire,” India’s Supreme Court said during a procedural hearing on several criminal complaints filed against Sharma. 

“This lady is single-handedly responsible for what is happening in the country,” it added. “She should apologize to the whole nation.” 

Since her comments, Sharma has been subjected to multiple police complaints filed against her across India by members of the public. 

While the 37-year-old’s whereabouts are unknown, her lawyer was in court asking that the cases be consolidated in New Delhi, a request denied Friday. 

Sharma was at one time seen as a rising star in the governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) but her remarks forced it into damage control. 

The party soon suspended the spokeswoman from her post and issued a statement insisting it respected all religions. 

Since coming to power nationally in 2014, the BJP under Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been accused of championing discriminatory policies toward followers of the Islamic faith. 

Critics also say the government has presided over a crackdown on free speech and rights activists. 

This week police arrested the Muslim journalist Mohammed Zubair, a vocal critic of the government who had helped draw attention to Sharma’s remarks. 

He was arrested on Monday and remains in custody over a four-year-old tweet about a Hindu god that police said had been the subject of complaints by Hindu groups.

Pakistan urges caution over Eid holidays as coronavirus cases rise

Updated 01 July 2022

Pakistan urges caution over Eid holidays as coronavirus cases rise

  • Pakistan has had few COVID-19 cases in recent months and had done away with almost all precautions
  • 694 positive cases reported in last 24 hours, nearly double the number at the start of the week on Monday

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani Health Minister Abdul Qadir Patel on Friday called on the public to take precautionary measures as coronavirus cases once again rise in the country, calling masks “essential” during the upcoming Eid Al-Adha holiday and urging people not to shake hands and hug.

Pakistan has had very few COVID-19 cases over recent months and had done away with almost all precautions.

But over the past 24 hours, the national COVID positivity ratio had risen to 3.93 percent with 694 positive cases, nearly double the number at the start of the week on Monday, according to data released on Friday by the National Institute of Health, Islamabad (NIH).

“We must take precautionary measures against coronavirus and ensure social distancing,” Patel said in a statement. “Mask wearing is essential during the time of Eid-ul-Adha and avoid going to crowded places.”

The minister appealed to religious scholars to ensure social distancing at mosques and urged the public to avoid hugging and shaking hands during the Eid holidays. 

On Thursday, Pakistan issued fresh standard operating procedures (SOPs) for government office.

The NIH in a notification urged government staffers to avoid shaking hands and mandated wearing face masks and incorporating social distancing in seating plans and during prayers.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif chaired a meeting to take stock of the coronavirus situation urging masses to take precautions against the infection.

Pakistan disbanded the National Command and Operations Center, its main pandemic response body, on March 31 as infections fell to the lowest since the outbreak began in 2020.

However, the South Asian country on May 23 reconstituted the NCOC at the NIH after health officials detected a new omicron sub-variant in a passenger arriving from Qatar. The new sub-variant of omicron is said to be highly infectious, though not as deadly as previous coronavirus strains.

Pakistan’s Civil Aviation Authority (PCAA) last week once again made it mandatory for all passengers on domestic flights to wear masks. Authorities are also urging eligible individuals to get booster vaccine shots.

There have been 1,536,479 infections and 30,395 coronavirus-related deaths reported in Pakistan since the pandemic began.