ON Tuesday, the Lahore Development Authority sealed the Lahore office of the South Asian Free Media Association, a non-profit that promotes media networking in South Asia for regional peace. The LDA claims it had acted on the complaints of some inhabitants of the locality who had approached the court several years back, requesting it to direct the government to stop Safma’s ‘commercial activities’ in the residential area. We must ask to what extent can running a library and a school for teaching journalists the media code of ethics be classified as a commercial activity. Especially when the LDA has not taken action against those in other residential areas of the city who are seen as ‘causing disturbance to the people’ living there. The LDA should have come up with a better explanation for its sudden action as the case, according to Safma officials, is still with the Lahore High Court pending a final decision.
The action against Safma comes at a time when different media outlets, journalists and local and international rights groups are complaining of increasing pressure on the media and restrictions on free speech in Pakistan. It is no secret that a few Safma officials have been vocal in raising their concerns over this growing pressure on major media outlets to toe a particular line and they have questioned the fairness of the July elections. At a news conference immediately after its office was sealed, a top Safma official alleged that the association had long been targeted by the government. The haste shown by the LDA in sealing the Safma office in this situation has raised many an eyebrow, lending credence to allegations that the organisation is being punished for its stance on the freedom of expression and the quality of the elections. The LDA would do well to unseal the Safma office forthwith and sit down with its officials to settle the issue if the organisation’s activities are actually causing problems for neighbourhood residents.
Published in Dawn, August 2nd, 2018