THE media industry has finally risen to the occasion. In a show of unity that had become rare in recent times, all factions of print and electronic media organisations, along with the owners of media groups, held a meeting in Islamabad where they came to the unanimous conclusion that not only would they reject the government’s move to set up media tribunals, they would also put up active resistance to it. Pakistan’s media industry has witnessed dark times before as well, when it was subjected to gag orders and brutal censorship. This time, however, the clampdown is unique in terms of the varied sources of economic and political pressures that those in power are able to apply, without specifying any reasons. In recent times, economic pressures have forced owners of media houses to actively endorse and practise corporate censorship, undermining the overall struggle for press freedom in the country in an increasingly polarised political environment. Resentment within the media itself is also building up as major media houses have resorted to layoffs and pay cuts to minimise their losses. For journalists to then put aside their differences with media owners and rally for a greater cause is commendable. At the same time, it underscores the serious challenges the industry faces as a whole.
Another outcome of the meeting was the constitution of a standing committee to determine a future course of action aimed at fighting media curbs. If the committee succeeds in achieving its immediate goals, it can also become a platform for encouraging a healthy debate on the industry’s role as the fourth pillar of state. Perhaps this forum can help develop a consensus on a strong code of ethics and encourage professionalism among media workers, which would go a long way in projecting the media as a strong, united entity. Meanwhile, it is time for the state to acknowledge that democratic progress can only be ensured with an independent and upright media that refuses to be a mouthpiece for the government’s misplaced priorities.
Published in Dawn, October 5th, 2019