Pulling the Plug: Is the Era of Media Freedom Over?

TV off air

The historical irony that a military dictator ushered in an era of journalistic freedom has not gone unnoticed. Gen Musharraf unleashed the media dogs, and the media dogs bit him squarely. For the next few years, the media served a purpose, though, keeping check on our new democracy by showing no restraint against any civilian politician. But as the curtain begins to close on Pakistani democracy, the era of media freedom too appears to be drawing to a close.

Even during the heyday of media freedom, there were always limits. These limits were never outlined by the official media regulators, PEMRA, but there were reminders given by unofficial media regulators. Journalists who crossed the limits of acceptable reporting – Umar Cheema, Saleem Shahzad, Hamid Mir, Kamran Shafi – were reminded to be more conscious when filing their stories.

Eventually, media groups began to issue their own regulations in the interests of self preservation. Editors began to issue new policies that prohibited journalists from expressing any opinion about the military, military operations, or religious political parties. Those media groups who failed to restrain their employees found themselves under enormous pressure to do so.

After years of sitting on the side lines, though, restrictions on what is permissible is now being made official. Pakistan Electronic Media Authority has issued new regulations warning media against airing any views critical of Army or judiciary.

Gen Kayani’s experiment with keeping the civilians on a long leash was never popular among the rank and file, and under Gen Raheel’s leadership, Army has begun to step out from behind the curtains. After taking over the role of judiciary, military is now expanding its role in general governance through the formation of ‘Apex Committees‘ in each province. As Army’s role in governance expands, media’s role in keeping government in check is no longer required, and, now, it too is being shelved.

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