Protecting Journalists

In an effort to ease the economic struggles faced by journalists across the country, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the State Life Insurance Corporation to provide health cards covering all major medical treatments. With an allocation of Rs.1 billion in the current fiscal year, the objective is to expand access to healthcare for people working in high-risk and underpaid industries. As we laude the initiative and claim it brings us a step closer to a fair and equitable medical attention, we must also be mindful of the fact that the health card programme comes with a plethora of issues itself which the government must resolve if it aims to expand the facility.
As per recent news reports, the health card facility will be expanded to all registered journalists and media workers who have to face immense strife in their daily lives. Studies by the International Federation of Journalists indicated that Pakistani journalists face issues like non-payment of salaries and frequent dismissals by media houses, on top of extreme working conditions and hostile environments which can potentially cause them harm as well. This leaves them deprived of basic amenities in their lives, one of which is access to quality healthcare. Having them be a part of the health cards scheme is bound to have a positive impact, and alleviate their financial burdens to a great degree.
At the same time however, there are certain concerns that the government must address before celebrating this development. There have been countless reports of non-payment of dues which has subsequently resulted in hospitals suspending their services. On top of this, there is no assurance of the quality of medical aid given to cardholders, and a weak policy framework leaves them severely disadvantaged. Often, months pass by before any corrective action is taken. While we work towards expanding healthcare coverage, the government must also redirect its energy towards improving the flawed system under which it seems to operate and take measures to prevent such discrepancies from occurring.
PM Shehbaz Sharif made it a point to state that action must be taken towards taking practical steps to make this a reality for journalists as well, and he is right to point out that announcements amount to nothing if they are not backed up with real work. The hope now is that all previous problems will be resolved one by one, while journalists and media workers are brought under the healthcare scheme.

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