You might have seen it. It has become a common practice at press conferences of government ministers and, in at least one case, that of the opposition as well.
Members of the press wait for the speaker to complete one line, after which he or she is interrupted, and one individual from the community stands up and says that the press conference shall proceed but only after they remove the microphones of certain television channels. These channels used to send their reporters, who have now been laid off, continues the speech, but we won’t let their microphones stay on the dais either. Soon, we won’t even let their DSNG vans ply the roads if these channels don’t start paying up on time and clear the arrears.
This all went for around a month. Now, the ante has been upped. Promise us, they started demanding of information minister Fawad Chaudhry, that your ministry will also not advertise in these channels. In this sequence of events, even ministers with other portfolios, like Sheikh Rasheed, for instance, had their press conferences shut down, till the information minister heeds their demands.
The latest on this front, of course, is the ban on the entry of the information minister at the Karachi Press Club, a ban that is set to spread to the press clubs of other cities as well.
Now, this isn’t a situation like what happened with former PTI KP information minister Shaukat Yousafzai, whose entry to the Peshawar Press Club was banned because he was behaving rudely. Fawad Chaudhry’s particular problem stems from his understandable inability to shut down the government advertisements of such major channels.
He’s in a strange situation. On one hand, he has dug in his heels and had invested significant political capital in the idea that the news media should not be so reliant on government ads. Yet, here, he is being asked to shut down said ads and he isn’t complying. He could tell the protesting journalists that the media barons are beseeching him to pay more, so they could settle all their employees’ dues.
Meanwhile, the journalists should also wrap their heads around the fact that though salary delays are a clear violation of labour laws, laying off workforce as long as the stipulated notice is served, isn’t illegal, strictly speaking.
Working journalists are well within their right to protest against salary delays and unilateral, across-the-board pay cuts, but the media operates in a free market and there is little by way of penalisation that the information ministry can impose on layoffs. Those are the cold, hard facts.