Toxic Work Culture In Pakistani Newsrooms: Journalists Are Finally Speaking Up
Pakistani newsrooms have been notorious for nepotism and pay cuts, paired with inhumane work hours and extremely low turnover. Last week, a chain of testimonies from the journalists of Dawn.com started a discourse on exploitative practices in digital and print newsrooms and media houses from all across the board.
Initially, a thread was posted by Hurmat Majid, a multimedia producer at Dawn.com, where she talked about the unfair treatment of employees, driving them to the point of self-harm, right around the time Indian actor, Sushant Singh Rajput lost his life to suicide.
The thread that was later removed from Hurmat’s account, because of the popularity it got, was an insight in the effort or the lack thereof that workplaces in the media industry put in the mental well being of their employees.
I am deeply grateful to those who reached out and showed genuine concern. Your support means a lot. However, the same tweets have ended up causing a lot of emotional distress to people around me and I cannot, in good conscience, let them stay out there.
— Hurmat Majid (@MajidHurmatKhi) June 19, 2020
However unintended, the Twitter thread allowed people from multiple other news/media organisations to come forward with their stories of workplace harassment and the power politics that often come into play when people from different socio-economic backgrounds work in the same positions.
Naya Daur talked to journalists in trying to figure out how the publications campaigning against the issues of social injustice often fail to provide their own employees with a basic and just system in which they can be held accountable if things go south. The identities of journalists are hidden because of the cases of intimidation and job insecurity that people have often faced in Pakistan for speaking up against media moguls.
An ex-employee of Soch Videos talked about their experience and elaborated upon the hiring practices that the company adheres to. “It became apparent that the job opportunities were bent in favor of those who were alums of a certain private school (it rhymes with MGS), or those who had fancy degrees from American/British universities. Little attention was paid towards the applicant’s professional experience,” they said.
“This was also mirrored in the organization’s salary packages — applicants with little/no experience were offered higher wages than seasoned applicants. One of my colleagues was offered significantly less money than me, even though both of us had the same qualifications, but she — unlike myself — did not attend a certain elite private school.”
“I’ve noticed similar trends as a freelancer — editors at prestige publications don’t respond to cold pitches (no matter how brilliant your pitch is, and how much pre-reporting you’ve already done) unless they know you personally. This has led to the industry being dominated by a select few, leaving little space for new entrants.”
Can journalism be pursued in Pakistan as a full-time/only profession if you have to run the house — is it sustainable in terms of promotions/ salary advancement?
“Absolutely not. Given the current economic climate, it is absolutely impossible to run a house on the salary of a full-time journalist. And while there’s no shame in having side gigs, they perpetuate the idea that journalism is inherently unsustainable — we need to push back on this and acknowledge the fact that our labor deserves adequate compensation.”
An ex-employee of Dawn.com also spoke up about the strategic tactics that are often used when the editor wants to fire a certain person for no reason.
“I was asked to do the graveyard shift at the news desk after the sports desk was dissolved. I was a sports writer and also a university student at the time so those hours were impossible for me. There was no negotiation on these orders, either I had to agree to the terms or leave. I was made to leave.”
An ex-employee of Geo.tv, the web section for the famous Jang Group also talked about their experience of getting important stories delayed just because the owners control more information than the editor does.
“If you have direct access to the owner, then there is never going to be an issue with getting your story published. No matter how unimportant or senseless or non-newsworthy the story is, if you have the privilege to pick up your phone and complain to the owner, you will have your story up in seconds.”
About journalism being an unsustainable work field in Pakistan, they said that unless you’re the editor in chief and are earning big bucks, it cannot pay for you. Even then there is always the possibility of pay cuts. Most of the people I know working as senior subs or desk heads, almost all of them have side gigs. This is not just to make a few extra bucks but it is also to make sure that you have another outlet or a safety net in case you’re abruptly laid off.”
Another journalist who works at the print section of Dawn echoed in. “Unless you are a big shot or editor, no, the salary cannot run your house. There is literally no path towards promotions, in fact, I saw my salary decrease over time due to the pay cuts, and the grade/title stayed the same.”
They also said that plenty of times certain writers are sparingly allowed to express opinions in news pieces while others are penalised for the using same words and the only difference between them is generally that of class.