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No end in sight for plight of district correspondents


No end in sight for plight of district correspondents

By Urooj Zia (Pakistan Today; 30 December 2010)

KARACHI: Not only are district correspondents from rural areas discriminated by many employers who either refuse to pay them at all or give them extremely meagre wages, they are also excluded from the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), which does not recognise them as ‘journalists’.

According to Rule 5 of the PFUJ Constitution, working journalists are defined as ‘members of journalistic staffs and freelance journalists who depend on journalism as their only professional means of living’. Many district correspondents who spoke to Pakistan Today said, meanwhile, that they were forced to take up additional jobs in order to make ends meet, and were, as such, excluded from membership from the PFUJ, and the protection of the biggest union of journalists in the country.

PFUJ Secretary General Shamsul Islam Naz  disagreed with this. “We stand for the right of every journalist, regardless of whether they are members of the PFUJ,” he said. “As for the definition of working journalists in our constitution, it is the same as defined in the labour laws of Pakistan.”

District correspondents and their representatives, however, would like the PFUJ to take a more proactive role in the process. “Half of the 12 journalists killed in Pakistan in 2010 belonged to Balochistan; most of them were district correspondents,” The Baloch Hal Editor-in-chief Malik Siraj Akbar told Pakistan Today. “But every time I bring these issues to the notice of PFUJ office-bearers, they pretend not to have ever received my email. I have been trying endlessly to convince them that two journalists in Balochistan are currently missing – they have been kidnapped and their lives are in danger. The PFUJ should not wait to merely issue the ‘PFUJ strongly condemns’ type of email. I don’t understand why they refuse to play an active role when it comes to the plight of journalists, particularly those in Balochistan.”

Naz, however, laid the blame squarely and solely at the doorstep of media organisation owners and employees. “According to the law, organisations are required to hire full-time employees for vacancies which require full-time work,” he said. “Even if they hire people part-time, they are supposed to become permanent employees after 91 days, according to the law. Hardly any media organisation in this country follows labour laws. People, meanwhile, are either not aware of their rights, or refuse to fight for them. We can’t take a stand on behalf of people who are not willing to take a stand for their own rights. We can only support people in fights that they choose to be a part of.”

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