Tuesday, September 8

Maheen Usmani…. She is not a quitter

A television channel is still facing the heat of being bad to a journalist, who knows how to express herself.
In yet another communiqué to all, she has gone harder on the television administration, and it can be hoped that she will continue her struggle.
Bravo! The lady!

Following is another letter written to all…including those behind her exit from the organisation.

Dear All,
Is there any justice in this benighted country? What is the fate of the National Press Club’s enquiry into the sexual harassment charges against Mr Yousuf Beg Mirza, Managing Director, Dunya News? I had high hopes from these senior and independent journalists after I gave my testimony in this case more than two months ago. But it seems that giving a verdict is beyond their capabilities.
Mr Mirza has been declaring to all and sundry that there is no truth to the sexual harassment charges because it was “only one” phone call. May I remind him that after my shut up call and him being put on the mat in Lahore in response to my complaint, and his subsequent offer to apologise, there was no way Yousuf Beg Mirza would have dared to make that second call. Not being a quitter, I decided to ignore this incident and put it behind me, but was unable to do so because of the MD’s constant efforts to sabotage my report and harm my programme, and destroy my career. It was after this constant harassment over a month’s time that I decided to leave Dunya News in protest.
After decades of censorship and draconian laws, we finally have what appears to be a no holds barred, vibrant and energetic media emerging in Pakistan. Or do we? Appearances can be very deceptive. The media, who term themselves the “watchdogs of our society”, cry themselves hoarse over the prevailing corruption and myriad injustices. But what happens to the very same journalists when their rights are trampled over time and again by the unholy nexus of noveau riche channel owners and senior journalists who have piggy backed onto senior management positions? Nowadays, we are inundated with the 24/7 coverage of sugar cartels, but why are no voices raised when the cartel of channel owners and journalists-turned-managers ruthlessly exploit their employees?
Dunya News recently fired senior and competent employees without any rhyme or reason just because their new Executive Director wanted to accommodate his own sidekicks. As if their sudden termination was not humiliating enough, notices were put up outside the office banning their entry. These ‘ex employees’ of Dunya News have still not been given their termination letters which means that they are still on the payroll of the channel. Whether Dunya News coughs up their salaries and dues is debatable, because they are known for contractual irregularities and pocketing salaries of anyone who has left the organization. Undoubtedly, Dunya News is living up to it’s slogan of “Dunya Tez Hai’ and is setting new benchmarks in the exploitation and humiliation of workers. But such is the power of money, influence, politics and connections that the majority of journalists, who profess themselves to be the custodians of truth and morality in our society, are in fact aiding and abetting such unprofessional activities by their deafening silence.
May I ask what exactly is the purpose and function of journalists’ organizations who claim to protect the rights of workers? What have they done to stop the ruthless slaughtering of journalists in the electronic media organizations? What sensitivity have they shown in my case? What steps have they taken to create awareness about sexual harassment in the workplace? Instead, I have been disgusted by their coarse comments and partiality towards Mr Yousuf Beg Mirza, despite his notorious track record. How many of these journalists’ organizations have ever protested to channel owners about arbitrary dismissals of employees and contractual irregularities?
They are ever ready to hold up a mirror to society, but do journalists ever look into that mirror themselves? Why is it that no newspaper or channel in Pakistan is ready to expose corruption or malpractices within their own industry? If it's a matter of 'you scratch my back, and I'll scratch yours', then why the brouhaha about the shenanigans and misdeeds of politicians or lawyers or doctors? Are the owners and senior management of the Fourth Estate any better than these transgressors? Why is it that the insidious corruption and shady deals within our own field reduces the full throated roars of journalists to mere squeaks? Mice or men? You decide.
Despite offers from leading channels, I have decided to take an extended break from the stimulating and fascinating world of electronic media, due to the influx of unsavoury characters and the ever increasing levels of hypocrisy and sycophancy which is difficult for any professional journalist to digest. Although I have been denied justice so far, I will continue to work to spread awareness about harassment in the workplace, and support the implementation of the Sexual Harassment Bill which will put offenders behind bars for 3 years. I do not regret the stand I took against one such offender, despite all the setbacks and the lack of concrete support from journalists’ organizations. My speaking out will not be in vain if it forces sleazy head honchos to think twice before targeting any female journalist in the future.

Maheen Usman

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