An unending struggle of PFUJ

PFUJ has a long history for fighting freedom or Press, Freedom of Expression and economic and legal rights of the journalists in Pakistan since its inception in 1952. Since our inception we have fought for the freedom of press and free speech even during the martial laws period. Our historic struggle was was during the period of military dictator General ZiaulHaq in 1978 when he imposed longest censorship on Print media. Hundreds of members of PFUJ courted their arrest and were tried by military courts. They were awarded rigorous imprisonments besides lashes to a handful of journalists. When PFUJ refused to bow down before the military dictator, Gen Zia ul Haq created a faction to get their support. This was done to get some “so-called” recognition from journalists for the illegitimate regime.

This faction was showered with favours from the military dictator. That was the first splinter faction of PFUJ created by the government. his faction started calling itself as PFUJ-Dastoor (meaning constitution). A similar exercise was carried by another civilian government to sideline our PFUJ and a new faction with the name of PFUJ (Rana Azeem Group) was created by it to oppose us as we ferociously opposed many of the anti-press legislations of that government. A third splinter group comprising not more than two to three dozen journalists was again activated by the establishment when we started questioning attacks and kidnappings of media workers by the state-actors.

This group is known as PFUJ-Workers. When Islamabad-based journalist Asad Toor was attacked by “unknown” persons, our PFUJ staged a protest demonstration against the state actors. To counter our protest and criticism and harsh statement issued by us on this issue, the state-actors mobilised PFUJ-Workers to hold a demonstration in support of military agencies and claimed that we were defaming the army at the behest of foreign powers. Interestingly, since there were no journalists with them they hired people for this demonstration and were exposed by the social media journalist Matiullah Jan, who interviewed the protestors and they admitted that they were not journalists. PFUJ is actually an eye-sore for the present government of PTI led by former cricketer Imran Khan as we are the only one who are bravely opposing his government’s move to bring Pakistan Media Development Authority (PDMA) law to gag the media and control them from behind. The PTI government also tried to create a new splinter group when we were holding protests against the PDMA across Pakistan. However, these .new groups failed to stand on their own feet.

In October and November, 2021 PFUJ organised a series of conventions on Press Freedom and Media Workers Rights across the country in collaboration with a local NGO working for the same objective. Political leaders, civil society representatives, lawyers associations and bar councils from all over Pakistan were invited to these conventions where the issue of shrinking space for freedom of expression and dissent were highlighted. The incumbent Pakistan Tehrik e Insaf government leaders were also invited to these conventions. While some of them participated in the provincial conventions, its leadership abstained from attending the National Convention held in Islamabad on November 17, 2021.

Next day, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry accused the PFUJ of holding anti-government convention at the behest of foreign powers and through foreign funding. PFUJ issued a strong-worded rebuttal to his statement but it was not carried by the national media except one Urdu-language television channel.

The government is presently supporting other small groups in an attempt to bring them together to stand up against our PFUJ and in this connection the Information Minister held a meeting with “so-called” leaders of splinter groups in Islamabad. However, we are ready to face any challenge and remain committed to our objective of achieving freedom of press and freedom of expression in this country.

In spite of its limited financial resources, PFUJ is consistently striving to work for the freedom of Press as well as the financial conditions of the media workers. It also feels its responsibility to improve the professional skills of journalists.

We, as an organisation, we are also engaged with civil society organisations, particularly with Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Pakistan Bar Council and trade unions to achieve our objectives.

On the issue of Pakistan Media Development Authority (PMDA) draft bill, which PFUJ considers as a draconian law to gag the free press, we in collaboration with civil society and lawyers associations and human rights defenders held a series of conventions at every level across Pakistan and garnered the support the political partied against this proposed black law, It was because of this pressure from us and the civil society that the government had to go on its back foot and put in on the back burner. We are determined not to allow the government to table this law in the National Assembly. This is PFUJ’s biggest achievement of bringing the civil society and majority of political parties on one page on this issue.

We also launched a social awareness campaign against social media rules that we consider hinder the freedom of expression. PFUJ challenged the social media rules introduced by Imran Khan led PTI government and in collaboration with the lawyers associations and digital media associations challenged these rules before the Islamabad High Court. The case is still being heard by the court.

PFUJ, in collaboration with Pakistan Bar Council, also formed a legal aid committee for the journalists who are targeted by the state organs and intelligence agencies or trolled by the government on social media.

Called “Journalists Defence Counsel”, it provides free legal aid to such victims. Many cases are pending before the courts that have been filed by PFUJ through this body.

The protection of journalists, being one of the main concerns of PFUJ, had also been on our agenda since long,

Our organisation had been demanding a law to protect the journalists. We lobbied with the political parties as well as parliamentarians during the last few years to bring this law.

During the last term of PML-N government led by Nawaz Sharif, a draft bill was presented by the then Information Minister Maryam Aurangzeb but it did not come up to our expectations and PFUJ rejected that bill in its entirety.

We continued to hammer our demand for bringing this bill and held several protest demonstrations throughout the country during the last three years.

It is now to our credit that on our consistent demand following attacks on journalists and their forced disappearances, we forced the government to lay a Journalists Protection Bill in the National Assembly. The PFUJ also drafted its own bill which was presented to the Human Rights Ministry. Out of our 44 amendments that we presented to the government bill at least 21 of them have been fully accommodated while some others were partially accommodated. The Bill has been passed by both the houses of the Parliament and is currently before the President for his signature before becoming the law. Although, there are some flaws in the bill, still we believe it is a good beginning.

In order to improve social skills of the journalists PFUJ in collaboration with its affiliate unions regularly hold workshops for improving the professional skills of the journalists, particularly those working in the remote areas of Pakistan and imparting them training in digital skills.

Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) has its reach and affiliates in almost the entire country. We have representation in all the four provincial metropolis besides having representation in major cities of Pakistan, All the regional unions of journalists also support us as they are affiliated with our respective Union of Journalists close to their town. We are in touch with the TRIBAL Union of Journalists, which is a separate entity that was working in the previously federally administered tribal areas. We are also in contact with the Central Union of Journalists in Azad (free) Kashmir.

Whenever PFUJ gives any protest call, the regional unions as well as tribal union and central union of journalists, fully support and participate in these protests.

Since PFUJ is a national organisation, it represents all geographical areas within Pakistan as well as include all ethnic groups and minorities.