M Ziauddin

Monday, May 25, 2015 – I am very sad for Bol. Not for those who had floated the media organisation. But for those hundreds of journalists and technical staff who left secure jobs in well- established, leading TV channels lured by Bol’s highly lucrative offers bordering on the fantastic.

In case Bol wraps up even before it is launched all these journalists and technical manpower would be out on the streets looking for jobs in a market that is already over saturated. Even the highly sought after, top notch anchors would find it almost impossible to return to their former organizations because in the first place the vacancies that were created because of their departure have already been filled and secondly the owners of their former channels would perhaps think twice before rehiring persons that had left them in a lurch.

The situation that is developing in the aftermath of the Bol crisis manifests for the umpteen time the weaknesses of Pakistan’s media industry. It has been running like headless chicken sputtering blood all over since the days of President Musharraf and his information minister, Sheikh Rashid. Without understanding the implications of lifting the bar on cross-media ownership, the Sheikh and his boss allowed the space for one or two media organizations to become more powerful than the government itself. Going one step further the two felt no qualms in letting the media industry be regulated by an impotent authority.

The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) functions directly under the information ministry which is part of the executive. So any action taken by PEMRA even if it was legitimate is sold to the general public by the ‘victim’ as an attempt to suppress freedom of the press.

There are today in the country as many as 100 news channels and every cable operator has also been issued licenses for at least five channels. Most who own these channels have dubious backgrounds, many run other industries and services—importers of gold, ghee manufacturers, owners of educational institutions, manufacturers of cosmetics and other consumer goods etc. The main reason for their entry into media industry is the clout that enables them to rub shoulders with country’s top decision makers and facilitate influence peddling.

Since they are not motivated by any altruistic sentiments, they do not bother to adhere to any kind of code of conduct or ethics. Most of these channels treat their staff very shabbily. No appointment letters or contracts are issued. Salaries are delayed by months. Reporters and photographers are sent to conflict or war zones without proper training or the required gear. Most of the media houses pay very little attention, if at all to the element of credibility and integrity.

Coming back to the crisis in Bol, most of the senior journalists who were hired by Bol on highly lucrative salaries as high as Rs. 100 million a month with high sounding designations and unthinkable perks have started leaving the organization even before the courts have found the Axact guilty of what it is being accused of. The first to leave was Kamran Khan, the president and the editor-in-chief (co-founder) of Bol group. He was followed by Azhar Abbas, the president and CEO of BOL News.

Others like Senior Executive Vice President of Bol Network Iftikhar Ahmed, Executive vice president and senior anchorperson Asma Shirazi,

Executive vice president and senior anchorperson Nusrat Javeed and Investigative journalist Wajahat Saeed Khan have also left. But the resignations of these journalists do not matter as much as those of Kamran Khan and Azhar Abbas. One recalls that Kamran was the first to leave Geo when Geo was under the cloud following its non-professional coverage of near-fatal attack on one of its senior anchor person Hamid Mir creating the impression that the ISI was behind the attack. The ISI accused the Geo of being traitorous and complained to the PEMRA for action. PEMRA held Geo as charged and punished it with a short ban and a hefty fine.

It was at about this time that Kamran left Geo giving the impression as if he had nothing to do with the editorial policy of the channel and also that he knew more than what was appearing on the surface about the fate of Geo. His leaving actually created the impression that it is only days before Geo would close down. And there was real panic among its staff. This time as well, he had left at a time when the investigations are still continuing against Bol creating the impression as if he knows more than the others about the fate of the media group he had helped build over the last two years and recruited hundreds of editorial and non-editorial staff most of whom joined not because of Mr. Shoaib Sheikh, the owner of Bol whom they did not know but because of Kamran and Azhar in whose professional sagacity they had immense confidence. .

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