According to latest reports, Pakistan’s biggest media house “Jung Group” has laid off hundreds of employees as part of on-going budget cuts.
Along with employees, the media company also shut down two of its publications, leaving hundreds unemployed. The group’s evening newspapers – Awam and Daily News were among the papers said to have been shut down with the closure of a few other publications also on the cards, among them weekly Mag.
On condition of anonymity, a source told a private news agency that nearly 128 staff members were also cut off from the company’s flagship publication, while the employee strength at the Karachi office was reduced by almost 50%. The Peshawar wing of the newspaper also suffered from layoffs.
Shamim Shahid, the Peshawar-based Senior Vice President of Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) condemned the retrenchments by Jung in the provincial capital. He called for urgent intervention by the federal and provincial governments, demanding immediate reinstatement of all employees.
Salaries at the group’s popular television channel Geo have been delayed for several months which led to protests by journalist unions.
Many other news organizations in Pakistan have also cut jobs and continue to delay paying staff wages.
The layoffs by news agencies have picked up pace since the PTI government came to power more than three months ago.
The news organizations claim the government owes them billions in advertising bills that has left them in deep financial crisis. But that is only half the problem, the actual issue for the media houses is the uncertainty that the PTI government has let creep in. With new economic policies in sight and new taxes levied on media and adverts, commercial and corporate companies are less likely to invest in advertisement on media houses. This has resulted in one of the deepest cut for some channels, forcing them to declare bankruptcy.
The journalist union leaders suspect foul play and wonder how the media houses that made tons of money through advertising in the run-up to the general elections become cash-strapped so soon after the polls.
Some argue that this down-sizing is manufactured and only affects some news agencies. Explaining that this is one of the ways the government is using to control media and criticism; pro-government media houses are still receiving adverts and making a profit, whereas media houses that have been critical of the establishment and the new government have seen a drastic drop in advert revenue. This may seem untrue at first, but more and more international watchdogs are talking about media censorship in Pakistan, which is different from that of the past.
The government and establishment cannot resort to kidnapping or killing journalists because that can easily be linked back to them. A much safer way to crush out dissent and criticism is to take away the platform from those who need to be silenced.
The freedom of press in even more so important in an age where information shapes the future, the civil society and media unions need to see whether this is an economic recession for the media industry or intentional censorship.