During a recent trip to London, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi decided to participate in a seminar on defending media freedom. Not only was his session boycotted by journalists, in protest against the increasing repression inside Pakistan, but Mr Qureshi was heckled. Instead of being statesmanlike, the Foreign Minister preferred to lie blatantly about how there was no media repression inside Pakistan.
While Pakistan has always ranked low on press freedom, the
last two weeks have shown blatant disregard for any pretense. “Pemra
suspended transmission of three private TV channels a couple of days
ago for airing an interview of PPP leader Asif Ali Zardari who is in the
custody of the National Accountability Bureau
and facing a trial in a fake accounts / money laundering case.
The authority also took off air an interview of the former president which was being conducted by anchor Hamid Mir on July 1, on the premises of the Parliament House where the former had come to attend a National Assembly session after the house’s speaker had issued his production order.”
This week on Wednesday the government announced a media ban on “convicted politicians.” As per news reports, the federal cabinet “decided to block media coverage and interviews of politicians who are convicts or under-trail prisoners and directed the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) to fulfill its “responsibility” to discourage airing of such programs by electronic media.”
As an Editorial in Dawn stated “The muzzling of the media is becoming more brazen, more dictatorial by the day. No longer is there even any pretense of a level playing field for media outlets. It is ironic for a regulatory body to not be following its own SOPs — that too while making flimsy allegations about the ‘offending’ channels having violated the electronic media’s code of conduct. In fact, one could more plausibly argue that Pemra is guilty of breaching its mandate, which includes expanding the choice available to the public for accessing the news and optimising the “free flow of information”. Indeed, the regulator seems to have become a handmaiden to the repressive forces micro-managing print and electronic media.”
The Dawn Editorial warned “A divided media is all the more susceptible to being coerced and hounded into submission; that is one of many good reasons for the media to forge unity among its ranks. Capitulation should not be an option.”