- All Pakistan Newspapers Society
All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS) is the organization of the major
Pakistani newspapers owners. Its election is held every year and three major groups of newspapers are the major players, and they are: Jang Group, Dawn Group and Nawa-i-WaqtGroup. These groups are accused for bribing the smaller newspapers and get benefit at large from the successive governments. This is the major body which refuses to give the Wage Board Awardto the working journalists. According to the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists, the labor laws are violated in the Pakistani newspaper industry but no government dares to take action against this powerful elite of the country.
What is the All Pakistan Newspaper Society?
The All Pakistan Newspapers Society is an organisation of all the publishers of Pakistan. It was founded in 1953 by the major, pioneering editors and publishers of they day to facilitate the exchange of views between the editors of the major publications of Pakistan and to protect the rights of newspapers by giving them a voice to appeal unfair decisions against them.
Today, the APNS is a clearing house of sorts for its member publications, safeguarding the commercial interests of newspapers under its membership (including tax payment). For example, if a company advertises in a publication but refuses to pay, the publication complains to the APNS. The APNS gives the agency an ultimatum: pay or get blacklisted.
This is an effective threat. Advertisers and the media have a symbiotic relationship – both need the other to survive. A newspaper’s main income comes from its advertisers (whether government owned or private), and the mass media and its wide range of audiences is the main reason advertisements are so effective. It is therefore very damaging for an advertising agency or a company to be blacklisted by the APNS, which has 243 member publications to date.These publications include weeklies, monthlies, sports magazines, women’s magazines, computer magazines, English and Urdu publications – with the exception of trade journals or newsletters, which are run within the company they originate from. (It is also very unlikely that they will run into trouble with the government considering their content is on leather or the quality of cotton threads or so on).
Neither journalists nor editors, though, have much to do with the dealings of the APNS. This may seem a bit misleading, with the ‘newspapers’ part of the title. The APNS, however, has nothing to do with the editorial content of any newspaper or publication. The APNS exists solely to give newspapers a voice if they are treated unfairly, or, as explained above, to protect their commercial interest. (Editors and journalists have their own organisations – the Council of Pakistan Editors (CPNE) and the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) respectively).
Today, there are 71 accredited advertising agencies and 243 publications under the APNS umbrella. The full list of these can be obtained from the latest APNS directory or APNS Awards Journal.
"Why did the newspapers/publications of the time need a voice?"
When Pakistan first appeared on the map, the Muslims of India got what they wished for after years of struggle. Unfortunately, along with this new piece of land they also inherited many problems. From unstoppable refugees to depleted army supplies to a sore lack of money, Pakistan had immense trouble getting into gear. Not surprisingly, these many problems included problems with the press – or more specifically, problems with freedom of the press.It is often said that the ‘blackest of black press laws’ came about in 1960, (and its amendment in 1963) in the form of [Ayub Khan’s Press and Publications Ordinance (PPO). It was called such because it gave the government total, absolute control, and journalists were reduced to mere stenographers.
However, it would be a mistake to assume that nobody attempted to interfere with the press before that. To put into perspective how dismal the situation was, Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s opening speech was nearly censored by bureaucrats who were unhappy with the reference to the masses being able to worship wherever they pleased, be it mosques or temples.This set the tone for what was to follow for the press.Obviously, the print media had the largest reach at the time. Consequently, it suffered the most.
Who were the founding fathers of the APNS?
Founders: Hamid Nizami, Altaf Hussain – all the important, pioneering editors of the day.In 1950, the Pakistan Newspapers Society (PNS) was founded (to emerge the existing publishers), when the editors of the time realised that the print media a) needed organisation and b) needed a clearing house. However, the PNS didn’t last for very long as it didn’t receive much support from publishers, advertisers or authorities.
Three years later in 1953 the All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS) came into being. It was badly needed to ‘facilitate the exchange of views amongst newspaper owners on matters of common interest. APNS successfully gave newspaper owners the means to watch over, protect, preserve and promote the rights and interest of the newspaper industry on matters directly or indirectly affecting its rights and interests.’ The Daily DAWN was the founding member. It was decided that the headquarters would be in Karachi, where they are to this day.
A couple of years later in 1955, the Council of Pakistan Editors (CPNE) was established as a representative body of the editors of the publications of Pakistan. Both the CPNE and the APNS struggled against black press laws that trampled over the freedom of the press. They have been successful in varying degrees.For example, they had been repealing the Press and Publications Ordinance passed by Ayub Khan in 1960 (and later amended in 1963). The ordinance gave total control to the government – even reports on the National Assembly proceedings were monitored). Journalists were reduced to stenographers. After a long, drawn out struggle, the law was taken back in 1988 when Benazir Bhutto came to power. Whether this was because of the valiant struggles of the APNS and CPNE or because the authorities concerned did not want Bhutto to have power is too close to call.Nevertheless, to put in perspective how it has expanded over the years, in 1971 it headed 41 publications with only the major publications involved. Today, there are 262, covering the two major newsgroups, Dawn and Jang, and many smaller publications covering most of the accessible region in Pakistan. (This might have more to do with there being more publications in Pakistan now than the APNS’s prowess at recruiting publications. It is much easier to start a newspaper or publication now than it was before – rather than going through the rigmarole of seeking permission from the government or concerned authorities, anyone can inform the government that they would like to begin their own publication. If they get a response within four months, it is assumed that permission has been granted).
Role and actions of the APNS
The focus today seems to be more on commercial than freedom. Many advertising agencies have been blacklisted, usually because they did not pay on time or at all.The APNS, therefore has two functions: first, to safeguard the commercial interests of newspapers and second, to protect the rights of newspapers and publications. Enter freedom of speech. Given Pakistan’s troubled history, though, it has had its work cut out for it in this regard. When it comes to the freedom of the press, the APNS and the CPNE have struggled together. (It is in both their interests, obviously).
There are many instances where the press has been hounded by the government, notably in the 50s and 60s, and even more recently than that. The APNS maintains that it has always assisted the press and fought for its freedom rights. To illustrate how, here is some background information.
In late 1998, the Jang Group office was raided by a government investigative agency under the cover of 'routine examination' for ‘tax purposes’. Along with this routine examination, it was ‘suggested’ that 16 investigative reporters be laid off (from Jang and The News).This was because incriminating stories about the Prime Minister’s family not paying debts were being run. According to the Jang group, the ‘routine examination’ was nothing more than a ploy to stop their newspapers printing these incriminating (albeit true) stories about important officials. Despite being asked explicitly not to publish any more, the Jang group went ahead anyway. The investigative officials were sent away.
Soon after this, the government cut off all its advertising to all Jang group newspapers. The publications had not technically broken any laws, so nobody could be arrested. Cutting off advertising, however, was just as bad, if not worse. Just as companies lose a lot of money if they are blacklisted by an organisation with 242 publications under it, it is very damaging to newspapers to have their main source of advertising taken away as this is how they make most of their money. For the icing on the cake, tax evasion notices were issued to the Jang group and its owners, Mir Shakilur Rehman and Mir Javed ur Rehman amounting to nearly Rs 2 billion. Several FIRs were lodged against him, and he was in danger of being arrested on a wrongful tax evasion charge.To contest all these charges the Jang group held a press conference the following month. Here, the government claimed that it should have a say in which journalist worked for which newspaper. The Jang group’s plan backfired, as the press conference also resulted in the government freezing its bank account and confiscating newsprint – at the end of the day, the group had enough newsprint to be able to print for only three days a week. Salaries could no longer be paid, and newspapers would obviously have trouble getting printed without newsprint. It seemed unlikely that the Jang group could continue publishing for very long.
The APNS then formed a committee from which it could appeal to the government and the Supreme Court. The committee informed the government that it had little right to remove journalists from their jobs. The APNS representatives stated to both the federal information minister and separately to the Ehtesab Bureau chief, that they would not remove journalists from their jobs as a result of government pressure. This was confirmed the same night in a BBC interview and subsequently in correspondence with the Ehtesab Bureau. The case was appealed to the Supreme Court, where the government was asked to release the newsprint back to the newspapers. The government declined. Anyone who contested it was beaten up. The PFUJ, silent for so long, now stood up and protested.
When other newspapers provided the Jang group with newsprint (perhaps out of sympathy?), they were threatened by irate FIA officials that their newspapers too would be forced to shut down.In February, the Supreme Court, at the behest of the APNS, once again ordered the release of the newspint, which the government finally released.The FIA officers were withdrawn from the Jang offices, the bank accounts went back to normal and publication resumed.
The one positive aspect that emerged from all this was that the government’s antics meant everyone’s sympathy was directed towards the Jang group – not just the common public (which for the most part is unaware of the mighty struggles of the press) but of journalists, publishers, national and international media organisations.
The Jang group claims that the APNS provided it with no help. The APNS disagrees, and issued a press release in the past to clear up the matter. Here is what the APNS president had to say:"The APNS has been instrumental in reducing the fetters from the Jang Group in the 21-day period in January. During this time, detained newsprint dealer was released from the custody of the FIA without any preconditions. During the crisis period, the APNS also affected the single largest clearance of newsprint reels.
"The APNS played a pivotal role in the opening of hitherto frozen bank accounts in the nationalised banks especially in Habib Bank Limited, and by the end of the 21-day period had facilitated the re-opening of Letters of Credit which had been earlier stopped by the tax authorities."
According to him, the government deliberately delayed both the unfreezing of the bank accounts and the releasing of newsprint, which was not the APNS's fault. The struggles of the APNS, combined with the Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors (CPNE) finally achieved the Freedom of Information Ordinance in 2002. (Unfortunately, the Defamation Ordinance also snaked its way in, which prevented freedom being practised the way it should).
Structure of the organistaion
Who owns the APNS?At the moment, Dr Tanvir Tahir. Various owners of the Dawn or Jang group have headed it, being democratically elected by the rest of the officers.What does a newspaper have to do to become a part of the APNS?There is a complicated form to fill in, along with a non refundable fee. (A copy of this form can be found in any APNS directory).
Awards of the APNS
Journalists and advertisers both are encouraged to achieve the best by standards set by the APNS. Should they surpass these standards, they receive awards at an annual awards ceremony (the last of which was held on 31st March 2006).The Advertising Awards were initiated in 1981, with Journalist Awards following in 1982. Advertising Awards are given on a 1st, 2nd, 3rd basis and include:Business Performance Awards
Client Performance Awards
Product Launch Award
Best Copy Award (English and Urdu)
Best Visual Design (colour and black and white)
Public Service Campaign
The Journalist Awards, however, are awarded differently, with only one person winning each category. The categories include:Best Scoop
Best Feature (English, Urdu, Regional)
Best Investigative Report
Best Article (English, Urdu, Regional)
The Wage Board Award is a salary package given to newspapers. The APNS has been consistently denying the Wage Board award to its journalists, and has come under fire for it but consistently refuses to give it, which, according to the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists, is against the law, but no one dares to do anything against the county’s elite.
To sum up, then, the APNS is a clearing house and an enforcer of press freedom rules/laws. It is quite successful with the former – the latter is not as easy. The freedom of the media in Pakistan has come a long way, even though it might not have reached where it has without the help of the APNS. But it still has some more to go, even though it has been told (by the present government) it will be fully supported in transforming the press into a free one, bearing in mind that a state can function properly only if the press is free to do its job.
Wage Board for Journalists in Pakistan
*http://www.apns.com.pk - homepage.
*http://mazhar.dk/pakistan - Pakistan Multimedia links
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