Media

PAK: Electronic or print media retains reporters in districts without paying any money

January 31, 2015 02:47 AM
Media in Pakistan

 "The hiring criterion wasn’t who was more competent, but rather, who was cheaper to hire."

ISLAMABAD: Most media persons — whether from print or electronic media — working in the small towns or remote areas of Pakistan are not officially on the payroll of the organisation they work for and are usually not paid for their services, senior journalists and media practitioners revealed on the first day of the Pakistan Coalition of Ethical Journalism’s (PCEJ) annual meeting.

Senior journalist Owais Tohid echoed this sentiment when he said, “Most out-station reporters aren’t even on the payroll of the organisations they work for. When they get into trouble, they are sometimes disowned by their parent organisations.”

Sharing the results of a survey of district correspondents from both print and TV in 11 districts of South Punjab, Multan-based journalist Jamshed Rizwani revealed that nearly all media organisations preferred to engage unpaid volunteers to report from small towns. “The management of large media groups are not interested in paying district correspondents,” he said, adding that the role of the editor for smaller outlets had been reduced to that of a circulation or distribution manager, who deals with hawkers or cable operators and has little time for editorial decision-making.

Senior journalist Owais Tohid echoed this sentiment when he said, “Most out-station reporters aren’t even on the payroll of the organisations they work for. When they get into trouble, they are sometimes disowned by their parent organisations.”

“Big city media is very different from small town media,” Mr Rizwani said. According to his data, 17 of the state broadcaster PTV’s 18 district correspondents in South Punjab are unpaid, while on average, around 80 per cent of district correspondents employed by private TV channels were rendering their services without remuneration. This led journalist and media development professional Adnan Rehmat, who was moderating the discussion, to observe, “An uncompensated journalist is a compromised journalist.”

This echoed the sentiment expressed by senior journalist Mazhar Abbas, who had earlier said that in the media today, the hiring criterion wasn’t who was more competent, but rather, who was cheaper to hire.

On Thursday, the PCEJ saw candid discussion amongst journalists and media professionals as they debated the question of ethics in the media from various angles. Islamabad-based journalist Myra Imran talked about public perception of the media and reminded everyone that journalists were not as popular among society as they might think.

“In the early days of electronic media, whenever we went anywhere for coverage, we were welcomed as messiahs. People thought that if we reported on their problems, their lives might change for the better. Now, however, we are treated like defendants in court and are told things like ‘We keep our children away from TV’ and ‘What kind of content are you showing?’,” she said.

The main reason for the mistrust, she said, was that there was no proper forum where people’s grievances against media houses could be addressed.

In an earlier discussion, veteran journalists Ghazi Salahuddin and Mohammad Ziauddin noted that certain media houses had created the office of an ombudsman, or a readers’ editor, but media consumers’ apathy towards news coverage was such that over a period of five years, the ombudsman at Mr Ziauddin’s last paper only received one actual complaint.

Asad Baig of Media Matters for Democracy and Bytes For All’s Sadaf Baig also presented some interesting data about Pakistan’s media landscape. Mr Baig, who is working on a forthcoming report with investigative journalist Umar Cheema entitled, ‘Journalism in Pakistan: Hostage to Media Economy’, told the audience that though terrestrial channels are the most consumed because they are available on both antenna and cable, cable penetration into Pakistan’s rural areas had grown by leaps and bounds. “More than half of the country has access to cable or satellite channels,” he said, citing research by Gallup and Open Society Foundations (OSF).

Mr Baig said that since media houses were not directly paid by media consumers for the content they were producing, they could not be liable to the consumer. “One hundred percent of media revenue comes from ad money, so why would channels want to improve their content,” he asked, rhetorically.

Mr Tohid, who currently heads the English-language channel PTV World, spoke at length about the challenges journalists in the field had to face because of incompetence or a lack of understanding of ground realities among news managers sitting in Lahore or Karachi.

He said that in the aftermath of the Army Public School tragedy, the media’s coverage was leading to a militarisation of society. “Social chaos and polarisation is reflected in the papers and on TV screens,” he said, adding that jingoistic coverage would only serve to divide society further

 

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