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A major media group in Pakistan shuts down five of its publications as journalism crisis in the country worsens.

Jang Group of Newspapers, the largest publisher in Pakistan by sales revenues, has folded five of its newspapers this week. They include the Peshawar and Faisalabad editions of the Jang daily, the Urdu-language daily newspapers Awam and Inqibal (based in Karachi and Lahore, respectively), and the English-language Daily News. Nearly 1,000 journalists were given the boot without any advance notice.

International and local organizations such as the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) slammed Jang’s decision, asking the publisher to reconsider it. PFUJ organized protests in Karachi, Pakistan’s most populous city with nearly 15 million people.

Jang Group of Newspapers belongs to Independent Media Corporation, one of the largest media conglomerates in Pakistan, which also owns the television chain Geo, operator of the Urdu-language news channel Geo News as well as sports and entertainment TV stations.

But Jang is an isolated episode. The closure of its newspapers is part of a much bigger crisis that has been rocking Pakistan’s media in the past few years. Century Publications, another major publisher, shut down the local offices of the Urdu-language daily Express in several towns. Another publisher, Herald Group of Publications is planning to shut down its monthly Herald, a publication with 50 years of history. According to the PFUJ, some 2,500 jobs have been axed in the country’s media industry during the year 2018. Local authorities disputed these figures, but failed to offer their own.

Financial problems are one of the key reasons for the closure of media outlets in Pakistan. Many of them, to stay afloat, have repeatedly cut their staff’s salaries. Some television stations have been canceling talkshows or various other programs to save money.

However, according to some critics, the government has a finger in the pie. Much of the financial predicament in Pakistan’s media industry has been triggered by the government of the Pakistan Movement for Justice (Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, PTI), which won the July 2018 elections in Pakistan with almost 32% of the votes. Critics say that, by canceling state advertising contracts, the government hobbled many media houses. Officials, however, argued that the move is part of the government’s plans to depoliticize the award of state advertisements by introducing rules and regulations aimed at giving state advertising contracts to media houses solely on merit.

Photo: AP