The outside world hardly knows all that goes on at a press club. Many mistake a press club for press itself and think that it is a place of a healthy and constructive dialogue. I thought the same until very recently when the paper I worked for folded and I started to spend some time at the National Press Club Islamabad.
There happens anything but dialogue, fair play, accountability, equality and all that our media, ostensibly, call for.
Let’s start with the membership. Nobody knows when the press club’s membership opens; the reception office will always tell you that they have not started receiving membership application forms. However, those with ‘influence’ can obtain and submit applications at will.
If a young journalist is lucky enough, he or she would be awarded ‘Associate Membership’ which the press club’s constitution says would be awarded to: proprietors, partners, directors, general managers, chairmen and managing directors of news organisations; press information and public relations officers; press attaches; spouses of press club’s full members etc.
Asked isn’t awarding Associate Membership to journalists against the press club’s constitution, Farooq Faisal Khan, President NPC, said he would only comment after consulting the constitution, a few-page document.
Press club’s constitution also talks about a library. Asked if there is any plan for a library, Khan refused to comment.
At the press club, Council Members, aka full members, enjoy certain perks and privileges. It’s only them who have right to vote in the press club elections.
Hundreds of young professional journalists — many of whom are Associate Members for years now — have been demanding right to vote but to little avail. A total of 1400 plots have been allotted to members of the National Press Club under the Punjab Journalists Housing Foundation Act 2004. Associates say many a council member are not even working journalists any more.
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 some function by a journalistic body, he is expected to donate/gift in cash or kind.
There are ‘journalists’ who are almost always found at the press club. If you ask them about their organisations, you will come to know about dozens of unheard-of newspapers and news agencies. Many have acquired declarations for magazines and wire services which, many years later, still don’t exist. In fact, they never wanted to bring out their publications. These declarations, as a friend put it, are just to legitimize certain privileges they receive in the name of journalism. Acquire a declaration and you are a journalist forever.
Other distinctive features of a press club include lots of tea, cigarettes and foul language.
In the evenings, some would sit in circles and argue over petty political issues. They debate the chances of various political parties in the next elections. They take sides, quarrel hours and hours and don’t budge from their stance. Curiously enough, they do this on daily basis.
There is almost every facility at the press club: cafeteria, TV room, a sports halls, computer lab and what not but a place to study.
The present governing body is quit good at introducing something new every now and then such as BBQ, summer camp, family gala etc but what it really needs to do is scrutiny of its members both the ‘seniors’ and the new comers, a bit transparency, a set procedure for membership and a project of members’ training and education.
(An edited version appeared in The Express Tribune. http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/12534/place-that-is-a-press-clubdone-anam/)