THE muzzling of the media is becoming more brazen, more dictatorial by the day. No longer is there even any pretence of a level playing field for media outlets.

A few hours after Maryam Nawaz’s explosive press conference on Saturday, in which she claimed that the judge who convicted Nawaz Sharif in the Al-Azizia reference had been blackmailed into doing so, Pemra issued show-cause notices to 21 TV channels for airing the “unedited live telecast” of the event. The very next day, three news channels were taken off air, prompting the Pakistan Broadcasters Association to issue a strongly-worded statement. Denouncing the arbitrary action, taken without “assigning a reason or giving [the channels] a hearing”, it demanded Pemra restore the broadcast immediately.

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.

About a week ago, former president Asif Zardari’s interview was taken off air a few minutes after it had begun, one of several recent instances in which live transmissions were cut off or abruptly suspended without any explanation.

Matters have reached a critical point; unfortunately, self-censorship is facilitating the sinister campaign against press freedom.

In a hard-hitting declaration it passed on Monday, PFUJ, the national association of journalists, stated that some media owners “in order to protect and promote their economic self-interest seem to be collaborating with the government…”.

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.

Published in Dawn, July 10th, 2019

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