IT is a reflection of the grim times we live in that a provincial assembly can adopt a bill authorising the speaker to constitute a committee with magisterial powers and jail journalists for anything they report which is deemed as violating the privileges of the parliamentarians. The Punjab Assembly has passed this draconian bill that has justifiably triggered a wave of alarm and protest by media bodies. APNS, PBA and PFUJ have each issued statements condemning this attempt to suppress freedom of speech and demanded of the Punjab government to withdraw the bill. It should concern all people in the country that this bill — with such far-reaching consequences for the independence of the media — was passed without any significant debate by the House and without any meaningful consultation with the relevant stakeholders. This is nothing less than an outrage. However, sadly, it is not surprising. Over the last few years — and especially since the PTI came into power — there is a visible and sustained trend to curtail the independence of the media by keeping it under all kinds of pressure. This is evident from the attitude and policies of government functionaries and the institutions they represent. Time and again journalists and media organisations have complained of visible and invisible pressures that are aimed at browbeating them into silence. The physical attacks on journalists — almost all unexplained till date — are a reminder that the cost of speaking truth to power is getting steeper by the day.
The latest to fall victim to state hounding is TV journalist Nadeem Malik who has been summoned by the FIA in what is a thinly veiled attempt at harassment. Mr Malik had revealed in his programme some alleged details of how the now deceased judge Arshad Malik had been hounded and blackmailed by powerful people to give a verdict of their choice in the case against former prime minister Nawaz Sharif. The FIA counterterrorism wing has issued a notice to Mr Malik and ordered him to bring evidence and information that he has shared in his show. These are the oldest tricks in the book but somehow Pakistani governments never tire of utilising them to try and bring the media to heel. However, they should know that weakening the media amounts to undermining democracy and fundamental rights as enshrined in the Constitution. The PTI government would be well advised to desist from such moves.
Published in Dawn, July 6th, 2021