Miseries of AJK Journalists
“I have not observed any journalist organization providing practical support to journalists in their professional work thus far in AJK.” Said Safeer Ahmed Raza.
Safeer Ahmed Raza, a reporter for 24 News channel based in Muzaffarabad, said that he has been associated with the field of journalism since 2003. However, he has never seen any trade union providing support to journalists in their professional work. He further explained that currently in Azad Kashmir, there are significant organizations like the Central Union of Journalists (CUJ), Union of Journalists (UJ) Azad Kashmir Press Foundation (AJKPF) and some others working. These organizations do extend support to journalists individually, such as in healthcare, education, and marriage, by providing financial assistance. Nevertheless, he emphasized that journalists have received limited support in their professional work from these organizations so far.
“The AJK Press Foundation and the Central Press Club in Muzaffarabad primarily provide support at the individual level to journalists. However, when journalists are terminated from their jobs or denied salaries, no one raises their voice for them,” he claimed.
In agreement with him, another Kashmiri journalist, Nasreen Sheikh, also criticized all the journalists’ unions present in AJK, stating practically none of them effectively fulfil their roles. “she mentioned that the TV Journalists Association has continued to provide substantial support to journalists in recent years. However, the rest of the organizations are not very active in this regard.
“All journalists hold positions as secretaries and presidents within these unions but hardly engage in any practical work,” she added.
Amirrudin Mughal, Senior Vice President of the TV Journalists Association stated that they strive to support journalists personally and professionally. He mentioned that their efforts extend to providing protection to journalists in Azad Kashmir amidst threats and offering support in legal matters.
“Currently, the Muzaffarabad Press Club stands as the most stable press club in all of Azad Kashmir. The TV Journalist Association, a highly active organization at present, is offering extensive support to journalists. They not only provide assistance in legal matters and protection against threats but also extend support towards education, mental health, and important life events such as weddings and funerals,” he claimed.
He further elaborated that some time ago, they established an organization under the name “Sports Journalists Association.” This organization is dedicated to promoting recreational activities for journalists and will actively participate in sporting events. They also have plans to collaborate with the Kashmir Premier League to support and engage in sports-related initiatives
Faiza Gillani, a member of the Press Club, mentioned that the Press Club does not receive funding from any source apart from a hall in the Press Club building that is rented to Allied Bank in Muzaffarabad. The rent amounts to 2 to 2.3 lakhs, which is used for the welfare of journalists.
“The other organizations are relatively fewer in number and not as strongly established. Their funding is primarily facilitated through a customary oath-taking ceremony for the heads of these organizations. When these heads invite any chief guest, they provide them with grants,” she added.
Sectary general of Central Press Club Muzaffarabad, Basharat Mughal said the Central Press Club Muzaffarabad does not receive any annual grants from the government; it sustains its expenses through its resources. However, during elections, when a new administration takes office, various prime ministers, as special guests during the swearing-in ceremony, allocate funds for the institution.
“Our press club is the largest and oldest journalistic institution that represents Kashmiris on both sides of the Line of Control. With over a hundred members, including national and international journalists, they have been delivering their journalistic services. The club has 83 permanent members, along with honorary members and associates,” he added.
Ibrar Shah, the Vice Chairman of Azad Kashmir Press Foundation, stated that they received an approximate grant of around 12 million rupees from the Azad Kashmir government. Out of this amount, 5 million rupees constitute our grant, and 3 per cent is deducted from the advertisements, that the information department provides to newspapers. This grant is utilized to support journalists in Azad Kashmir for various purposes such as weddings, funerals, medical treatment, and education.
“My personal opinion is that this foundation is the only active foundation in this region, being funded by the government which provides financial assistance to journalists in every difficult situation,” Shah added.
While discussing plans, he mentioned that they have been working to provide financial support to journalists above 60 years of age, with a monthly stipend ranging from 15 to 20 thousand for their livelihood.
Muhammad Shahid, Vice President of the Kashmir Electronic Media Association in the Nakyal tehsil of Kashmir, while speaking, has stated that journalists in Azad Kashmir face significantly fewer threats compared to journalists in Pakistan. Most of the time, they encounter minor or trivial threats, especially related to news stories. We make extensive efforts to support journalists in these situations.
While talking to the Press Information Department, it was said that they do not provide funds but advertisements to newspapers and news websites. Apart from this, they facilitate journalists for press coverage, conveyance, and accommodation, especially if they are from out of the city,