Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Dawn Media Group & Insecure Jobs of Journalists

Daily Dawn was allegedly founded by the Founder of Pakistan Muhammad Ali Jinnah. The CEO of Dawn group is Hameed Haroon, and the current editor of Dawn is Abbas Nasir, who is also looking after the Dawn News Channel [supposed to be a full time job], and how the hell it would be possible to look after two organizations at the same time!!

Hameed Haroon is Chief Executive Officer of The Dawn Media Group (DMG), Pakistan’s leading media conglomerate. The Group comprises Pakistan Herald Publications (Pvt.) Limited, the printers and publishers of DAWN newspaper and three leading magazines, Herald (current affairs) Spider (Information Technology) and Aurora (marketing and advertising); DawnNews Pakistan’s first and to-date only English language news channel; City FM89 radio and DAWN.COM-arguably Pakistan’s most visited news web portal. [Couurtesy: Wikipedia]

As per latest news update dated 25 May 2007 [AAJ NEWS 2100 HOURS].

On 25 May 2007 the DAWN NEWS CHANNEL's test transmission was commenced and guess what the opening ceremony was addressed by Generalissimo Generalissimus Il President Mr Parvez Musharraf. Whereas the so-called Beacon of the Press Freedom i.e. Pakistan Herald Publication Limited or to be precise Daily Dawn [DATED 25 MAY 2007] says:

"“In our endeavour to establish DawnNews we are enormously helped by our legacy – The legacy of DAWN, that was founded by the Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah on 14th August 1947 in Karachi, the same day our nation was born. We believe that by facilitating access to information of the highest quality and with a defined commitment to clarity and accuracy, we can enable Pakistan’s young generations to assume their place as informed citizens of the world.”

But Jinnah had never dreamt of Controlled and Guided Democracy by Military Dictator as well as he never dreamt of that a Military Dictator would be addressing a forum founded by a Lawyer of Impeccable Character i.e. Mohammad Ali Jinnah

The tragedy of English Speaking Pakistani Elite Class can only be defined as:

If you lost money then nothing is lost,

If you lost health then something is lost,

If you lost character then you lost everything and nothing is left.

The most amazing thing is this that after all these years of boastful claims of Freedom of Press and leaseholding of Basic Human Rights, on 27 March, 2009, Mr Hameed Haroon at the behest of Editor Dawn Mr Abbas Nasir and Part TIME EXECUTIVE RATHER Hatchet Man of DAWN NEWS CHANNEL, sacked more than 70 employees in the name of reorganizing [Read Retrenchments and Iron Kick] the Dawn News Channel and this step is itself tantamount to Financial Murder and this is the step for which Hameed Haroon and Pseudo Leftists of Saadat-e-Amroha in Dawn Editorial Board hounded the several Civilian Government of 90s. Following is the list and names of Working Journalists/Technicians who have been summarily dismissed:

Another lame plea of Dawn Group Management is this that Dawn News Channel has nothing to do with Daily Dawn newspaper! I wonder what the hell Mr Abbas Nasir [Editor Dawn] is doing in Dawn News Channel and why the hell both the orgainzations share the same website?

NOTE: The article below was written some 5 years back but it is quite relevant with the above act.

Newspaper Employees: Under Attack at the Workplace and in the Media but Fighting Back.

By Dr Riaz Ahmed Department of Applied Chemistry, University of Karachi, Karachi, Pakistan [Courtesy - South Asia Citizen Web since 1996]

A major impact of privatisation is downsizing and wage reduction. In a month when government claimed it has amassed Rs 22 billion from privatization of the largest bank, divested largest mutual fund, dis-invested shares of the second largest fertilizer company amongst 11 others getting proceeds worth 20% more than the last year it is no surprise that the billion dollar newspaper owners of Pakistan are calling for a repeal of a law passed in 1973 that enforces minimum wages in the private newspaper industry.

What do media barons want to achieve from their recent campaign when the 7th Wage Award will only effect 5% of the total newspaper employees? The answer stems from the recent liberalization measures that have gone unresisted. Newspaper owners wish to seize on a golden opportunity to wipe away the remnants of nationalization of the 1970s. They hope that like the nearly un-resisted privatization amid bomb blasts, mass murders at mosques and the Wana Operation the only resisters to change could be Al Qaeeda.

Hence the blatant and provocative sacking of the President of Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists in late April and in mid June the Joint Secretary of KUJ was sacked just to send reminders to activist amongst the 5% permanent news-workers throughout Pakistan that they dare not resist the re-privatization of wages. And the owners are not up against that many.

Recently a survey of 18 newspapers and two agencies by Karachi Union of Journalists revealed that "only 152 journalists mostly from DAWN, Jang, APP, Business Recorder, and Daily Times have permanent jobs." The survey reports that temporary workers, making 75% of total workforce, will not benefit from the award and will continue to work without formal appointment letters on illegal contract basis without job security.

Owners are confident hat they will be successful in getting public support for their wage-control measures through a massive advertisement campaign that equates a mere 50% wage rise in 5 years against freedom of the press. They say the wage award will force newspapers to close down even though only four newspapers implemented the 6th Wage Award the last time it was awarded eight years ago.

Newspaper employees throughout Pakistan are agitating for the implementation of the 7th Wage Board award. Since the third week of June daily protests are reported (on the internet and foreign media only) from Lahore, Rawalpindi, Peshawar and recently in Karachi.

The Wage Board Award, headed by a Supreme Court Judge, fixes wages for the journalists and newspaper workers after every four years. The 7th Wage Award provides for an average increase of 50% in pay with corresponding increase in general transport allowance; night transport allowance; local transport; outfit allowance; uniform allowance; charge allowance; piece-rated wages; hill allowance; house rent allowance; and computer allowance. Taking the rise in cost of living 50% after 5 years is still less than the inflation. The KUJ survey reports that "majority of the journalists are receiving salaries from Rs 2,500 to Rs 5,000, but no medical or insurance facilities".

7th Wage Award was announced in October 2001. The newspaper owners are bound by the Wage Board decision as stipulated by the Newspapers Employers 1973 as representatives of both employers and employees unanimously agreed upon the Seventh Wage Board decision. But employers took to courts. Despite court verdicts newspapers refused blatantly to implement them even though the government twice revised the official advertisement rates for the newspapers to appease the owners in the same period, argues a leading activist. This means that newspaper employees are still receiving the wages decided by Sixth Wage Board eight years ago.

The recent spate of agitation was sparked by the newspaper owners themselves. A massive publicity campaign was launched in the second week of June by the All Pakistan Newspaper Society calling on the President to repeal Newspaper Employees Act 1973. Daily quarter page size advertisements are published in newspapers of member organizations by the owners rejecting the 7th Wage Award saying that owners will have to pay Rs 200 crore in five years to the employees an amount that will force closure of papers. PFUJ, the main force behind the agitation, has termed the advertisements as pack of lies aimed at blackmailing the government.

President of PFUJ Ahfaz-ur-Rehman, recently sacked from largest Urdu daily Jang, dismisses the newspaper ownersí plea that the implementation of the 7th Wage Award would sink their organizations financially. "They have been making this baseless plea since the first wage award was constituted but the ground realities are quite different. The people have seen the vertical growth of the newspaper organizations, particularly during the recent few years. The profits of newspapers have multiplied and a large number of these organizations have not only expanded their newspapers by bringing out new editions from other cities but also invested millions of rupees in launching radio and television channels". "If they have the money to buy channel subscriptions then why donít they increase the wages? asks one reporter. Nevertheless it is a fact that the implementation of five awards since 1973 have not led to closure of any of the newspapers that implemented them.

The claim of the employers that they will go bankrupt after increasing wages by 50% is unrealistic. It appears more absurd when they claim that a newspaper peon earns over Rs 16,000 per month ñ the minimum wage according to the 7th award for lowest grade employee will be Rs 5000 and the maximum for the editor: only Rs 22,000. At the moment various national dailies pay sub-editors Rs 5,000 per month while the award calls for only a rise of Rs 2,000.

While statistics are not available as the newspaper owners in Pakistan, like other magnets, never disclose their dwindling incomes but a measure can be made from the fact that the largest circulating daily Jang publishes ads worth over Rs 20 million every Sunday. Published records in India reflect on Pakistan: Bennett Coleman and Company, publishers of the Times of India, is the second most profitable unlisted company in India, after Tata Sons. They sell 1.6 million copies of seven editions. In 2001 they recorded a 107 per cent growth in net profit over the previous year to Rs 205.92 crores. The Hindustan Times recorded a 96.49 per cent dip in profits but still managed a net profit of Rs 0.58 crores in 2001. Kasturi and Sons, publishers of the Hindu declared a net profit of Rs 22.25 crores in 2001, up 28.39 per cent over the previous year. If size is not comparable then at least the growth rates are and they suggest that newspapers in Pakistan must be growing in huge numbers.

There are six issues that come across in this case. The prolonged struggle, marginalisation of unionized workers and hence the attack on the Newspaper Act itself, the drag due country-wide low levels of struggle in the past 15 years, the privatisations and ëenabling environmentí for private sector and all resulting in reliance of news-workers struggles on government to force the owners to implement the award.

First the struggle of the newspaper workers is hardly reported in the local press, almost all owners prohibit publication of news of protests or meetings while at the same time they attack the employees in the papers produced by the employees. Though the 7th Award is in dispute but even the sixth has yet to be implemented while the 8th is overdue.

Second, the number (95%) of newspaper workers who will not benefit from the award is enormous and acts as a dead weight on the struggle. Out of the hundreds of newspapers only Dawn, Jang, The News and Business Recorder implemented the 6th Wage Award that too after a two year struggle of workers ñ the rest of the widely circulating 21 newspapers simply refused to implement it.

Third, those benefiting are a tiny minority of low-paid workers. The papers that implemented the 5th Wage Award employ less than 3,000 workers. Over the years state-owned organizations having similar hierarchies spend over 50% of their budget on salaries. Officers extract 55% while lower staff gets 24% and expenditure on medical and transport facilities is around 17%. Thus a 3,000 strong workforce in a public sector organization spends between 300 to 500 million per annum on salaries and allowances. Of these over 30% is spend on less than 10% of the employees --- the higher officials. Considering this as a background and then taking the fact that newspapers unlike public sector are profit making organizations there is hardly any question of paying 200 crores in salaries by these four owners of large newspapers. These four papers are now in the forefront for abolishing the entire Newspaper Employees Act 1973 that guarantees the formation and implementation of Wage Award.

Fourth, because only 5% employees will benefit from the award the representative organizations find it difficult to mobilize support amongst a huge majority of its fraternity. In the past two decades the number of temporary workers is on the rise in all areas of industries. In Karachi alone trade unions exist in only 4 newspapers out of the scores and even at the unionized papers less than 30% are members because the rest are on contract. Therefore the representative organizations find the wage award an uphill task.

Fifth, lack of unionization and a huge majority of temporary workers have instilled a fear of failure of strikes or other direct action measures and forced the representatives such as APNEC and PFUJ to go to courts after ownersí APNS refused to implement the award nearly 3 years back. The legal battle was recently won when Supreme Court ordered in favor of employees. Though the APNS has gone into appeal but their recent campaign suggest that they see the workers bodies as weak to still have the award implemented and as final blow are now looking up to the President to repeal the NEA 1973 in the name of press freedom.

Sixth, as a consequence of the above five, there is little wonder that the sudden surge of anger and the outburst of protests may not have caught the owners by surprise. Despite the internal unstable political situation and the counter-terrorism-war, the government has created a highly ëenablingí environment for the owners by privatization of large banks. In the past one year there was an exceptionally low or nearly no resistance by the employees of privatized institutions. On the other hand the annual report of the National Industrial Reconciliation Commission (the dispute settler between labor and employers) announces that the Commission held referendum at only 15 of the thousands of institutions registered with it. On its website The Tribunal for Newspapers Employees consumes a government grant of Rs 3.77 million annually but settled claims for outstanding dues of newspaper employees amounting to only Rs. 0.9 million since Oct, 1999. Clearly various governments deliberately ignore workersí rights violation to weaken workers and enforce privatization, the regime of General Musharraf is no exception.

Around 6 years back the mere announcement by the government that it intends to privatize banks led to massive protests. This year the privatization of UBL and Habib Bank has gone nearly un-noticed. Sensing that the government itself has had a free hand in off-loading assets and forcing thousands into unemployment, the newspaper owners take Wage Awards as political attack by the governments. Their claims about press freedom appear hollow when they appeal to a military dictator stating that the prime minister is unjustly forcing the 7th Wage Award.

On their part the struggle of the newspaper employees is therefore, in a way, a struggle in the ocean of passivity, for the 5% and against heavy odds. Media barons are immensely powerful people. Unlike India they may not be as rich but still could be counted amongst the top 100 rich of this country. Hence, for the moment, the leaders of the workers are happy to gain from government support. They proudly proclaim that the assemblies of four provinces and the center have passed resolutions supporting them, the Information Minister openly supports implementation of the award.

However it is the same government which has not taken action against any newspaper for not implementing the Supreme Court decisions. Government advertisements worth millions of rupees continue to publish in leading dallies. The same government which keeps a criminal silence on the pathetic salaries of daily waged employees all over Pakistan, including newspapers, appears supportive of the newspaper workers. It is here the danger lies.

The recent protests show that a considerable number of permanent news-workers are ready for a fight-back. I went to one of the protests and the most applauded speakers were those who called for action. That raises the question of the type of action that can force owners to concede. Over here there appears to be disagreement. The leadership feels the pressures from below due to the rising cost of living but still appears fearful of the fact that very few workers may have the confidence to stand up to the owners. It is this uncertainty that takes pushes them to appear appeasing of the government, take protests to assembly buildings instead of newspaper offices and not calling strike action at unionized newspapers.

However it is upto the layer of activists in newspapers who have to mobilize large numbers of ordinary workers to create an environment of confidence. For the moment everyone seems agreed on protest, but they look upto the leadership to take a lead. The leadership is in a dilemma.

Surely, for show of anger this struggle has to be taken out on the streets but for massive mobilization the struggle has to go to into the newsrooms and print shops as well. Unless there is action at the workplace the marches and protests in front of press clubs and public places will have little effect. The owners know how to prolong a struggle and exhaust the few activists amongst the 5% unionized employees. The only way to really hurt the employees is to take action that effects their profits and that means delays, go-slow and even strikes. However the militant activists cannot take action on their own ñ for that they have to spread their struggle into the non-unionized workers.

Therefore action in the newsrooms and print shops if it is essential then at the same time it cannot succeed unless non-unionized employees support them. For that the unionized employees have to show solidarity with the non-unionized whenever they are attacked. The leadership will have to come out of the press clubs and call workers at the workplaces where they are attacked and intimidated. Since the beginning of the present spate of struggle the counter-actions by the owners show that they are getting scot-free and the UJs failed to mobilize on the sacking of their central President and Joint Secretary from Jang and Khabrain respectively.

For the movement to spread it will be necessary to initiate action whenever the news-workers are attacked and if this struggle is move forward then there is hardly any doubt that the attacks will continue both at the workplace and in the media. For the news-workers struggle to succeed in this confronting the anti-wage ownerís campaign they will have to counter the greater measures of privatization and wage squeezes along with other workers. The owners are hand-in-glove with the government can the workers unite?

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