There are many problems that go unaddressed in Pakistan, and corruption is one of them. On the contrary, the international scandal involving Axact’s sale of fake diplomas has led to criminal charges against the company and CEO Shoaib Ahmed Shaikh and caused a nationwide debate.
Amid this unusual furor, however, we should spare a thought for the 2,200 employees of Axact’s nascent television channel whose jobs are now in peril. As is unfortunately becoming a norm, the lower staff members in most news organizations across Pakistan usually bear the brunt and silently suffer. The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority this week prohibited BOL TV from operating until the alleged fake diploma mill is properly investigated.
As it stands, Shaikh and six others are accused of forging and selling fake documents. They were arrested after a raid of Axact’s office in Khayaban-i-Ittehad, Karachi, which led to the recovery of a large cache of fake diplomas and degrees.
The actions followed an outstanding report in the New York Times by its Pakistan bureau chief, Declan Walsh, revealing a global scam of fake degrees spearheaded by Shaikh.
Soon after the revelations, there were some people posting on social media who tried empathising with Shaikh. But the evidence was so well researched and obvious that those voices died a natural death. There were others who called out Walsh for “conspiring” against the state. But these allegations also seemed hollow compared to what the report revealed.
Soon after the report, some of the top journalists who had joined Axact’s upcoming TV channel and newspaper resigned, citing ethical reasons.
Pakistani authorities felt compelled to go after the perpetrators as the evidence pointed out in the story were too obvious to ignore. For the time being, it seems the news channel won’t be seen anywhere on televisions across Pakistan.
So, while there is a lesson for the journalists who joined BOL, despite their being doubts in the industry about Axact’s earnings even before the report came out, it is important to think about those left behind at BOL. They were instantly left in the lurch as senior journalists associated with the channel resigned amid the uproar the scandal created.
These employees are from the lower rung in most newspaper and TV channels, and unlike the well-paid and well-placed seniors, they won’t be accepted back at the organizations they left behind. And if they are, their appearances will be followed by bullying, which will make the experience even more humiliating for them.
The reason most of the lower staff left their previous organisations for BOL was to go after what was not provided for them otherwise: a stable and good salary and life insurance. There are newspaper organizations in the urban centers where employees commonly don’t get paid for months, and the situation is even worse for rural outlets. There are two newspaper organisations in Karachi in particular where the employees are still waiting to be paid, in most cases, after years.
There also are no established safety guidelines for reporters and technicians working in almost all news organisations in Pakistan. In such a scenario, BOL seemed alluring to those who wanted a good pay and a better working and living condition.
With BOL out of the way, much to the relief of many people around, there is a nagging thought that now the voices of those at the lower rung in news organisations will be further toned down. As a tweet by journalist, Zarrar Khuhro, summed it up perfectly: “@ZarrarKhuhro: Saddest part of this is that things BOL did, like employee protection/ insurance will now not be implemented by other channels.”
I am all for raising objections and speaking out on the social media, but the kind of viciousness that was unleashed towards the people who chose to work at BOL, on Twitter and Facebook in particular, is deplorable to say the least. What made it sad was the fact that the nasty jibes and comments didn’t come from the ordinary citizens but from journalists waiting in the sidelines to pounce on any explanation given to the contrary. It was their turn to be self-righteous and while doing so revealed the many weaknesses that plagues journalism in the country at the moment—conflict of interest being a major one.
Here’s hoping that the Axact scam, which will be remembered for a long time, will redirect the discussion towards solutions and towards the plight of the many technicians, cameramen and reporters whose backstories usually go unreported.