IN a disturbing move, the federal cabinet has decided to impose curbs on the media coverage of convicts and absconders. In this regard, Prime Minister Imran Khan has tasked Law Minister Farogh Naseem to sit with the Pemra chairman and finalise the draft of a law to enact such curbs. Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Information Firdous Ashiq Awan told journalists “those convicts and absconders who looted public money are glorified in the media as they frequently come on TV and claim to be innocent and criticise the government and its policies”. It is clear that she is referring to the opposition leaders and more specifically to Nawaz Sharif, his children and possibly former finance minister Ishaq Dar.
Let it be said that the government is treading down the wrong path. There is now a clear pattern to its hostile attitude towards the media, and this is reflecting time and again in its actions. It was only recently that the government had floated the ill-advised idea of establishing media courts aimed at passing swift judgements against the media while bypassing the regular courts. This latest decision also amounts to gagging the media and undermining its prerogative to cover what it wants, when it wants and who it wants. If this were not troublesome enough, the law under consideration smacks of partisan politics as it is intended to squeeze political opponents. On the face of it, the reasoning behind this suggested law does not have much to do with the rights of the citizens, or benefits to them, but rather to target selected individuals in order to derive political benefit from such actions. This in itself is wrong, but what makes it doubly so is undermining the media while persecuting the opposition. Here’s what the PTI government is repeatedly failing to understand: it cannot browbeat a media that has faced such pressures for decades under all regimes including military ones. The PTI may be new to power but the media is not new to persecution. By taking such ill-thought-out decisions, the PTI government is only exposing its mal-intent and amateurish understanding of the role of media in a democratic society. The prime minister should heed some sane counsel before his government stumbles down a slippery slope. When personal vengeance becomes official policy, prepare for long-lasting damage to society. That is one kind of preparation that Pakistan should be spared.
Published in Dawn, December 12th, 2019