In a rare and welcome show of strength and unity, nearly all media stakeholders joined hands to reject the Pakistan Media Development Authority proposal set forth by the Ministry of Information,...
In a rare and welcome show of strength and unity, nearly all media stakeholders joined hands to reject the Pakistan Media Development Authority proposal set forth by the Ministry of Information, protesting outside parliament and also joined in by opposition party representatives. The government has finally somewhat retreated and agreed to set up a joint committee with media representatives to discuss and review the proposal. Pakistan is already at one of the bottom rungs of the ladder of media freedom in the world, considered a dangerous place for working journalists and media professionals. In this situation, rather than doing something to improve the image of the country by enacting laws for the protections and safety of journalists, it is bizarre that the government would even try to impose more restrictive and regressive laws.
What Pakistan’s media needs is the protection of media workers and provision of freedom of expression. There is a need to improve laws in terms of ensuring safety of journalists and access to information. The Senate Standing Committee on Information and Broadcasting has also discussed the PMDA matter and the concerned ministers have been asked to provide the draft for the PMDA proposal to all stakeholders. It is heartening to note that all media stakeholders have been alert regarding this matter, and this vigilance must continue lest the media once again is put in a straitjacket. We have already seen the fallout of such steps, when – in a first for Pakistan’s history – parliament’s press gallery was out of bounds for journalists during the joint session of parliament on Monday in which President Arif Alvi was to speak. It is disturbing times indeed when the press is not allowed access to cover parliamentary proceedings. The government has tried to explain it away as a misunderstanding but it must understand what this means not just for media freedom but for democracy in the country.
Censorship – be it under whatever guise – only threatens a democratic society. Democracy and the citizens of this country need a free media – be it electronic, print or social media – that allows space for dissent and investigation. The salvation of this country is not in curbing media freedoms but in strengthening democracy, for which freedom of expression, access to information and a free press are absolutely essential.