“I have solely dedicated my life to journalism, working as a cameraman for various media houses over the past 15 years. In 2014, I joined a prominent channel (which I won’t name) that offered me a decent salary and attractive perks. Grasping this opportunity, I joined with renewed passion and enthusiasm, treating it like a new venture. I toiled day and night, braving all weather conditions, and tirelessly worked towards the channel’s growth and success. My dedication was evident in the historical, cultural, and corruption reports I produced, setting new records for efficiency and impact.
Within a few years, the channel became one of Pakistan’s top 5, but unfortunately, the atmosphere within the organization changed. Employees were subjected to unnecessary harassment and compelled to leave their positions.”
These sentiments were expressed by video journalist Muhammad Ashfaq Hussain during a candid conversation. He shared his sorrow over the widespread unemployment faced by his fellow journalists when media institutions were downsizing. “Seeing my friends losing their jobs left me deeply disturbed. I wondered, where would they go now? How would they sustain their families? One night, my mobile SIM card, provided by the channel, was abruptly blocked.
Though I thought it was a technical issue, deep down, I sensed trouble. The next morning, when I reached the office for my routine duties, I was informed that the organization no longer required my services, and I was asked to return the SIM card and other belongings. My world crumbled beneath my feet, and my thoughts immediately turned to my school-going children. How would I manage their fees, daily needs, and other expenses? What could I do at my age and in these circumstances? I had no other skills except operating a camera. In such a crisis, who would offer me employment to support my family of five or six?”
According to Ashfaq, the year was 2017, and media organizations were grappling with financial challenges, making it nearly impossible to find alternative employment opportunities. In the face of uncertainty, everyone feared losing their jobs, as lay-offs became commonplace in big companies. “I knew nothing other than journalism, and I returned home in distress, contemplating whether entering this field was the biggest mistake of my life. I had dedicated my youth to this profession, and yet, I received no pension or support. I was dismissed from my job abruptly, without any notice or explanation.”
His eyes welled with tears as he expressed his sorrow. “I could endure my hardships, but what about my family and little children? How would they continue their education in a private school? I hadn’t saved enough for them. I spent years unemployed and now find myself working as a daily wage laborer for different organizations, earning barely enough to support my family.”
Despite his trying circumstances, Ashfaq feels optimistic that better days will come, and he will return to wholeheartedly pursuing his journalistic passion. He laments the lack of support from institutions like the Press Club, Khyber Union of Journalists, and the government during these challenging times. Dozens of journalists remain unemployed, yet no one has raised their voice on their behalf, which he finds deeply disheartening.
Through it all, Ashfaq remains hopeful and believes in the possibility of a brighter future where he can once again dedicate himself wholeheartedly to journalism.
Rising Unemployment Among Journalists
As Pakistan grapples with rapid inflation and a surge in unemployment, various industries, including the media, have been significantly affected. The closure of large factories and the relocation of businesses to other countries have further compounded the economic challenges. Both television and print media journalists are facing immense difficulties, not only in terms of their freedom of expression but also due to severe financial hardships.
In the past, during times of unrest and terrorism in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the media industry saw significant growth, attracting international media organizations to establish their offices in the region. Journalists were highly valued during this period, and their financial conditions were relatively better. However, with the passage of time, when economic troubles struck, the media organizations primarily targeted Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, leading to massive job losses for journalists in the region.
The unemployment rate of journalists in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has been on a steady rise, as evidenced by documents obtained from Peshawar Press Club. Shockingly, more than two dozen journalists in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa were dismissed without any notice or reason during the last few years. This unprecedented trend of job terminations has deeply affected journalists, particularly those in Peshawar. Over the past four years, the number of unemployed journalists in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has reached 42, including several experienced and senior journalists. The layoffs have not been limited to field reporters and cameramen, as office workers, editors, sub-editors, and resident editors, also known as newspaper pilots, have also been affected by this unfortunate situation.
The Plight of Unemployed Journalists – Struggling for Survival
The current plight of unemployed journalists is dire, with many facing severe financial hardships. For some female journalists, the field of journalism has become a last resort due to unavoidable circumstances, while others are grappling to make ends meet.
As per data obtained from Peshawar Press Club, a staggering total of 42 journalists in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have been unemployed over the past four years. Among them are 17 reporters, 16 cameramen, 4 sub-editors, and 3 resident editors. One of the affected journalists, Maria Tabasim, now works as a freelancer with an organization to sustain herself.
The report highlights the significance of this figure, considering there are around 600 registered journalists in the region. Securing a job in another organization under the current circumstances has proven to be a daunting task for unemployed journalists.
Journalist Kamran Ali expresses his concern that despite some media organizations being in stable financial positions, the fired employees have not been reinstated. The responsibility to advocate for the rights of these journalists lies with the unions and the press club. However, thus far, no meaningful steps have been taken to secure jobs for unemployed journalists or to raise their voices on their behalf.
Small Newspapers Succumbing to Inflation and Censorship
The impact of rising inflation and government censorship has been particularly harsh on small newspapers, resulting in many closures. Several publications have shut down their offices in Peshawar, relocating to bigger cities. Among those that remain, the workload has intensified, as a few employees now bear the responsibilities that used to be shared among many.
One prominent example is Akhbar Khyber, which was once considered one of the top newspapers in Peshawar, following “Masharq” and “Aaj” daily. Sadly, Akhbar Khyber had to cease operations and is now printed in limited quantities from Islamabad. Among the journalists affected by this media crisis is Mohammad Altaf, who had been associated with Akhbar Khyber from its inception and eventually became its resident editor. He, too, was laid off and is currently seeking employment in a reputable organization.
A close friend and colleague of Altaf, Abdul Halim, spoke highly of him, acknowledging that Altaf not only excelled in his duties but also took innovative initiatives to enhance the newspaper’s quality.
Unfortunately, Altaf has been unemployed for the past three years and is facing significant financial hardships. Despite his skills and experience, he has not received any job offers from either small or large organizations. The struggle to secure stable employment continues for him, adding to the growing number of unemployed journalists in the region.
Print Media Downsizing – Impact of Digital Media and Financial Constraints
The advent of digital media has posed significant challenges for the print media, leading to serious problems, as highlighted by senior journalist and editor of Kasuti, Amjad Aziz Malik. One of the primary issues is the decline in advertisements received from the Information Department, creating financial difficulties for media institutions. As a result, many newspapers are either closing down or reducing their workforce.
Amjad Aziz Malik emphasized that his organization, Daily Kasuti, has managed to avoid laying off any employees despite the hardships. However, he expressed concern that if the situation worsens, the owner may be forced to make difficult decisions, leaving him as the editor feeling helpless. In such circumstances, his only option may be to resign himself rather than dismiss the employees, as there seem to be no other alternatives available.
The impact of financial constraints is widespread, with several TV channels also closing their offices in Peshawar, including major channels. Newspapers like “Nai Baat” are now published from Islamabad due to financial challenges.
Mumtaz Hussain Bangash, senior journalist, and editor of Daily 92 News shed light on the drastic decline in circulation for renowned newspapers like Daily Mashreq and Daily Aaj. In the past, they had substantial daily circulations of 65,000 and 54,000, respectively. However, the current conditions and difficulties have caused their publications to plummet to less than half of their previous figures. The financial crunch has been so severe that most of the major newspapers have even closed their Sunday magazines, as the rising cost of paper outweighs the negligible revenue from advertisements.
These distressing trends underscore the tough times faced by print media, driven by the rise of digital platforms and the challenging financial landscape.
Press Club’s Efforts to Support Unemployed Journalists
The Peshawar Press Club is well aware of the challenges faced by unemployed journalists and is taking measures to alleviate their difficulties. General Secretary Irfan Musa Zai revealed that the Press Club is providing relief to journalists through Ramadan packages, Eid packages, and other arrangements. Their focus is particularly on supporting unemployed journalists during these tough times. However, they acknowledge that these measures are not enough, considering the lack of permanent job opportunities.
President Arshad Aziz Malik emphasized the Press Club’s commitment to providing financial assistance within its limited resources. To address the issue of unemployment, they have initiated training programs for journalists, equipping them with digital technology skills and expertise in various fields. The goal is to enable these journalists to diversify their skills, including social media usage, so they can find alternative sources of income and become self-sufficient. Many journalists who underwent this training have successfully transitioned to earning through social media and other means.
Malik noted that the media industry faced significant challenges during the previous government’s tenure, prompting media owners to lay off workers to reduce costs and exert pressure on the government. This resulted in an increasing trend where the work previously done by five employees is now taken on by three, leading to an unfair burden on individual journalists. The Press Club is actively striving to address these issues and support journalists in these trying times.
Government’s Response and Initiatives for Unemployed Journalists
Federal Information Minister Maryam Aurangzeb acknowledged the media’s troubled past during the previous government’s tenure, stating that the destruction of media organizations and journalists during that time was unprecedented in history. She expressed her awareness of the difficulties faced by journalists and assured that her party is actively working to address these issues.
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As part of their efforts, PTV broadcasting in Peshawar has been extended to 24 hours, providing local journalists with opportunities to highlight regional issues and potentially create employment opportunities for them.
Regarding the lack of documented information on unemployed journalists, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Caretaker Information Minister Barrister Feroze Jamal Shah Kakakhel announced the formation of a committee. This committee will comprise journalists, officers, and officials from the Information Department, aiming to investigate issues faced by journalists comprehensively. The committee will work towards finding solutions, including employment opportunities for unemployed journalists, thus contributing to their well-being and prosperity as Pakistani citizens.
Note: This story is part of the Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF) Fellowship Program.