A news channel of one of Pakistan’s oldest media houses has shut down and over 700 of its workers have lost their jobs across the country. The rest of the media houses, which own news channels and newspapers, have also sacked hundreds of employees or slashed their salaries after their owners were served money laundering and tax evasion notices for owning properties abroad.
The government has sent notices to thousands of people, who hold bank accounts and properties abroad. Most of big media house owners are also allegedly involved in money laundering. They have also been served notices, like politicians, bureaucrats and businesspeople. Sources say the government is not in a hurry to take action against the media house owners. It has focused its attention on the big fish, including politicians, bureaucrats and businesspeople. Action against the media house owners will be taken in the last stage. However, the notices have panicked them and they have started sacking employees in a bid to create an impression that the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan has imposed curbs on the media and they have no option but to remove staff from jobs or cut their salaries. Journalist bodies are holding protests daily against pay cuts and layoffs across the country. Most employees have been laid off in news channels. Some newspapers have also not paid salaries to their workers for over six months. Others have started delaying them, on one pretext or the other. Many journalists have left the profession.
The biggest problem for the media is that it has become used to receiving government advertisements as bribes in the past. The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government allegedly provided billions of rupees to media houses for better coverage to improve its image, especially after the onset of the Panama case against the Sharifs. Besides, it provided advertisement worth billions of rupees in its tenure. It had adopted a novel way of avoiding audit of mega development schemes by including the advertisement in the cost of the projects. The facility is not available under the present government. There is also a huge difference in salaries of anchors and reporters and other staff. Most anchors get almost 20 times more salary than ordinary reporters. Only reporters and low-ranking staff have been laid off, instead of anchors, who continue to receive hefty salaries.
According to a Dawn report, the government has cut its media spending by more than 70pc and private companies by almost 50pc since the installation of Prime Minister Imran Khan. “The government’s media spending started falling soon after the installation of the caretaker governments in Islamabad and the provinces in the run-up to the July elections. Commercial advertisers began cutting their expense on media campaigns soon after the new government came into power because of tax and economic policy uncertainty,” the report quoted a leading advertisement agency owner. The federal and provincial governments, especially in the Punjab and Sindh, in recent years have heavily spent their way into the list of top 10 print media advertisers along with commercial banks, mobile companies, real estate developers and food companies. Quoting industry sources, it said the advertising spending of both federal and provincial governments made up a major part of the incomes of TV channels in the last few years. Under a policy to benefit TV channels and their owners, the government paid more than thrice for its advertisement than they charged from private advertisement agencies for the same duration and slot. The majority of the channels are facing the present financial crunch because their revenues from government advertisements have suddenly vanished.
In fact, resources of newspapers and magazines have dwindled in the whole world after the emergence of the news channels. The Independent and Newsweek have abandoned their print editions. Even leading newspapers in the UK seek donations to run their affairs. In the prestigious Guardian, there is a message at the end of every story which seeks a one pound donation. It pleads: “If everyone who reads our reporting, who likes it, enjoys it, helps to support it, our future would be so much more secure. For as little as $1, you can support The Guardian – and it only takes a minute. Thank you. Your support counts. Together we can be a force for change. Three years ago, we knew we had to try to make the Guardian sustainable by deepening our relationship with our readers. The revenues from our newspaper had diminished and the technologies that connected us with a global audience had moved advertising money away from news organisations. We knew we needed to find a way to keep our journalism open and accessible to everyone, regardless of where they live or what they can afford. And so, we have an update for you on some good news. Thanks to all the readers who have supported our independent, investigative journalism through contributions, membership or subscriptions, we are starting to overcome the urgent financial situation we were faced with. Today we have been supported by more than a million readers around the world. Our future is starting to look brighter. But we have to maintain and build on that level of support for every year to come, which means we still need to ask for your help.”
Pakistani newspapers have not stared seeking donations but reduced the number of pages and are working with the lowest possible staff. There were rumours in the country that a leading English language newspaper was planning to abandon its publication after “unprecedented restrictions” by the government on its production and distribution. Except a few, most newspapers pay low salaries and some delay them for months. According to experts, advertisement market’s actual size in Pakistan is Rs12 billion but it was artificially increased to Rs35 billion to Rs40 billion. The government has brought its media spending to a reasonable level. It needs money to provide basic facilities to the people. The newspaper industry is affected by the policy and it will have to live with it. However, news channels have no justification for layoffs. They only aim to malign the government and create a wave of resentment in the public.