THE state of media freedom in Pakistan today is far from satisfactory. The last two years have seen growing pressures of all kinds on the media leading to shrinking space for freedom of expression. Journalism in a democracy is all about speaking truth to power, but doing so in this country carries consequences. The latest in a series of incidents signalling a growing lack of state tolerance is the suspension of the broadcast licence for Channel 24. Pemra has pulled the channel off air citing some licensing issues but the channel management says they are closing transmission because they cannot face “blackmailing” from the government. Hundreds of people will now lose their jobs.

The trend unfortunately is quite clear. The present government has piled pressure on the media through all means available adding to the existing financial woes of the industry. Recent years have witnessed unprecedented job losses and cutbacks within the industry. While some of this may be attributed to ‘market correction’, much of it is a result of policies pursued by the government in terms of advertisements and non-payment of arrears. At the same time, state pressure to toe the official line and not cross some red lines has led to self-censorship and muted critique by a majority of news organisations. Those that have resisted such pressures have faced punishment through various means including financial ones. Threats of physical violence are also frequently reported. All this undermines democracy and promotes a culture of intolerance and abhorrence for dissent. The culture flows down from the state to citizens at large, and the media becomes an easy prey for scapegoating. With the digital revolution gathering pace with each passing day, now is a good opportunity for the government to facilitate the media so it gains strength and adds greater value to the practice of democracy in Pakistan. The PTI government therefore needs to review its attitudes towards the media industry before hard won-freedoms are put under threat.

Published in Dawn, July 7th, 2020

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