A press club: No fair play, no accountability and no dialogue
Acquire a shady declaration from a non-existent news agency and voilà, you are a journalist forever!
The outside world hardly knows about all that goes on at a press club. Many mistake a press club for the press itself and think that it is a place reserved for healthy and constructive dialogue. I thought the same until very recently when the paper I worked for wound up and I started to spend some time at the National Press Club (NPC), Islamabad.
Rest assured that what happens here is everything but dialogue, fair play, accountability, equality and all that our media, ostensibly calls for.
Let’s start with the dubious case of its membership. Nobody knows when the press club’s membership opens; the reception office will conveniently tell you that they have not yet started receiving membership application forms. However, those with ‘influence’ can obtain and submit applications at will anytime of the year.
If a young journalist is lucky enough, he or she will be awarded an ‘associate membership’. The press club’s constitution states that these will be awarded to proprietors, partners, directors, general managers, chairmen and managing directors of news organisations, press information and public relations officers, press attaches, and spouses of press club’s members.
When asked if awarding an 'associate membership' to journalists is against the press club’s constitution, Farooq Faisal Khan, President of NPC, said he would only comment after consulting the constitution, which by the way is a document of just a few pages.
The press club’s constitution also talks about a library. There is almost every facility at the press club; a cafeteria, a TV room, a sports halls, a computer lab and what not but there is no place to study (the constitution does speak of a library, doesn't it?). So when asked if there is any plan for a library in the future, Farooq Khan refused to comment altogether. How silly of me to think that one can actually hold the president of a club accountable for breach or ignorance of the club's constitution.
At the press club, council members, also known as full members, enjoy certain perks and privileges. For instance it’s only them who have a right to vote in the press club elections. Many young professional journalists, a lot of whom are 'associate members' for years now, have been demanding the right to vote but their demands seem to be falling on deaf years.
A total of 1,400 plots have also been allotted to members of the National Press Club under the Punjab Journalists Housing Foundation Act 2004. Associates say many council members are not even working journalists any more, yet they are the first to receive privileges without being questioned.
The press club’s finances come mostly from donations by the visiting politicians and press conferences; it charges about Rs12,000 per press conference. When a politician is invited to an event by a journalistic body, he is expected to donate or present a gift in monetary form.
Then there are the so called ‘journalists’ who you are almost always bound to find at the press club. God forbid you ask them of their respective organisations or credentials; you will be swarmed with a dozen names of newspapers and news agencies that you probably have never heard of. Many have acquired declarations for magazines and wire services which, years later, still don’t seem to exist. These declarations, as a friend put it, are a mere means to legitimise certain privileges they receive in the name of journalism at the press club and in general.
So here is a tip for you guys, acquire a shady declaration from a non-existent news agency and voilà, you are a journalist forever who is now entitled to perks and privileges for a lifetime.
Other distinctive features of a press club include lots of tea, cigarettes and frivolous lounging. In the evenings, some sit in circles and argue over petty political issues. Curiously enough, they do this on daily basis. What is very common in a press club is the frequent swearing and use of foul language. I think this is probably due to the misunderstanding that unless an assertion or a point of debate is accompanied by a curse word, you will fail to make an emphasis on its importance.
Most of these journalists or members, sit and discuss the chances of various political parties in the next elections for hours on a daily basis. They take sides, quarrel endlessly and don’t budge from their stance (so much for stimulating one's intellect!). I mean, wouldn't one naturally assume some global matter or a proactive discussion over ending corruption or even ideas about how to eradicate child labour to be the subject matter of discussions?
Mind you, the present governing body is quite apt at introducing something new every now and then such as BBQs, summer camps, family galas and so on. However, what it really needs to do is scrutinise its members - both the seniors and the new comers - and introduce a bit of transparency into the membership procedure. It needs to reconsider its methods to bring more quality to the club and its constituents.
Oh well, now that I have seen the inside of a press club, I can surely say that there is nothing constructive or healthy about the happenings within.