Pakistan has never been a heavenly place for journalists, but the current era is undoubtedly the darkest phase in the history of journalism.
Various media houses are shutting down on daily basis, rendering journalists jobless and some even homeless. Those who have somehow managed to remain employed have in some cases not been paid for many months. Media owners says the government is responsible for this situation by not paying for its advertisements – revenue that is needed to pay journalists.
The organizations representing journalists are either divided or care more about their own welfare than the common good. In this scenario, Asif Butt, president of the Electronic Media Reporter Association (EMRA), is like a blessing. He has been working day and night for unemployed journalists or those who are working but not getting paid. Butt always defends the rights of these disadvantaged people, even if it comes at a personal price.
He has been at the forefront of protests against media owners and has helped unpaid journalists seek payment in the courts. He has been successful in securing millions of rupees in unpaid salaries for media workers.
He also deserves credit for drawing together journalists and related organizations from all over the country. A recent example of this is was an international event at the EMRA Centre in Lahore. The National Press Club Islamabad, the Lahore Press Club, the Pakistan Press Club UK and several other national media organizations came together for this event, where they came to a consensus on future objectives. Taking advantage of this occasion, I conducted an exclusive interview with him.
Q: How did you decide to fight for journalists when no one today bothers to get in trouble for others?
A: Everyone loves to fight for oneself but to me, the meaning of life is to live for others. I have devoted my life for the betterment of the media workers and I believe I won’t be able to live a perfect life without getting them their due status in society.
Q: For how many workers have you been able to reclaim their salaries? What is the approximate amount?
A: Nine billion rupees have been retrieved and many billions are yet to be paid for which we are struggling.
Q: Were you threatened?
A: Yes, definitely. But let me tell you all of this is part of life and we’ll all die on a pre-decided day. And what do you say – a coward dies a hundred times a day, the brave meets death but once.
Q: What do think of the unity among media workers and how important is it?
A: I believe their existence is possible only in their unity and this is the basic theme for organizing this event engaging Pakistani media organizations from all over the world at EMRA’s platform.
Q: What could the possible outcomes of this struggle be in the near future?
A: In my opinion, if workers get united, we can overcome all our problems even today. Representative organizations should focus on community interests and thus we can defeat this employment crisis through unity and showing respect to the matters of mutual interests.
Q: Would you please put some light on the action plan devised for the wage board?
A: To be honest, no one had ever give it a thought before today. Our representative organizations become touts of the media owners mostly and thus obstruct the progress of the majority of workers.
Q: Where do you see journalists in the future?
A: I will repeat that if we do not unite we’ll be wiped out. The solution to all problems is just “unity.”