It’s well accepted that a free media is a foundational requirement for a functioning democracy. This was apparent to Quaid-e-Azam who spoke passionately on different occasions about the importance of independent media that will fearlessly criticise those in power. Today we have a media that fearlessly criticsing the powerful, but there are some questions about its independence. Setting aside conspiracies, there is one way that media independence is threatened that is obvious – the problem of media workers going for months without being paid their proper salaries.
President Zardari called on the All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS) to look into the issue of payment of salaries of the workers and journalists this week, saying that “The PPP and the present government recognize and respect the critical role of the media in promoting democracy, as an independent media was a guarantor of human rights, freedoms and liberties.”
Certainly APNS should take up this issue, but why doesn’t the Chief Justice take notice also? The issue of payment of salaries surely falls under the Fundamental Rights in the Constitution. Article 24 demands that ‘No person shall be compulsorily deprived of his property save in accordance with law’. Is it not compulsorily depriving media workers of their property when media groups do not pay them their due salaries? Allowing media workers to continue without the Court taking notice also sends the message to other companies and other industries that they can stop paying workers and there will be no consequences.
There is another effect that nonpayment of salaries has also which is that when workers are not paid their proper wages, they are forced to look elsewhere for the means to pay their bills and feed their families. This encourages corruption and bribe taking where there it wouldn’t exist if workers were paid properly. In the case of media, the taking of bribes and other payments calls into doubt the media’s independence. If the Chief Justice wants to get rid of corruption, here is an easy way to start.
The Chief Justice has made clear that he believes that corruption is a serious problem of society and that the rich and powerful must not be given a free pass. But the cases that have obsessed him are targeting individual elites, not problems that affect the lives of the common man. Taking notice of the issue of payment of salaries to media workers would give the Court the ability to fight corruption and hold the rich accountable under the rule of law. It would also protect the Fundamental Rights of the Constitution and show the people that the Court is working for the good of society and not some political agenda. Therefore, it seems like an obvious case. So where is the Court when we need it?