TO say that the Pakistani media is going through a grave crisis would be an understatement. The drop in revenues and stagnant state of the national economy overall has had a devastating effect on the country’s media organisations, with salaries slashed and hundreds of workers laid off. To add to this, many organisations have not paid their employees for weeks, if not months. When there are bills to pay and mouths to feed and the bank account is empty, the effect on people’s mental and physical health can be shattering. Over the past few months, many journalists and media workers have struggled to bear the stress of unforgivably delayed salaries. Last week, Fayyaz Ali, a cameraman at Capital TV, passed away due to a heart attack, perhaps caused by the stress of not receiving his dues for several months. The PM’s special assistant Firdous Ashiq Awan condoled with the late worker’s family the other day, observing that a databank would be created to keep track of workers whose salaries had not been paid. The late worker’s employer announced compensation for his family, while Ms Awan said his brother would be given a job in the information ministry.
Perhaps if the channel and government had acted earlier, Fayyaz Ali would be alive today. While media houses must explain why they are holding up salaries for months on end, the government also cannot be absolved of blame in this matter, especially when it withholds ads — and, worse still, outstanding dues amounting to hundreds of millions of rupees — as a political tool. Moreover, Pemra needs to play a more proactive role in ensuring that TV channels, where the issue of delayed salaries is most acute, pay dues on time. If media organisations refuse to do so, perhaps their licenses should be cancelled. Instead of making whimsical pronouncements, Pemra needs to focus on making the government pay its dues, and hold off on issuing new licenses until the crisis subsides and the media industry’s health improves.