EVER since he has begun pounding the pavement again, the ousted premier has taken to bemoaning what he describes as a “media blackout” against him. He repeated this at the PTI workers’ convention in Lahore on Wednesday, and tauntingly asked freedom of expression advocates why they had gone silent.
Only four channels, as far as Imran Khan is concerned, are giving him due coverage. Recently, in keeping with his current line of attack, he also accused the media of receiving foreign funding and conspiring to topple his government while “standing with the dacoits”.
It’s all smoke and mirrors where Mr Khan and the press are concerned. On the one hand, while he was the prime minister he said the media in Pakistan has more freedom than that in Britain. He has also, very rightly, described it as an important pillar of democracy whose duty is to raise awareness. At the same time, social media accounts linked to the ruling party instigated vicious trolling of independent-minded journalists; PTI ministers would single out reporters in press conferences to discredit and ridicule — all without a word of censure from Mr Khan.
The government contemplated bringing in a regulatory law so draconian that a military dictator would have flaunted it with pride. The proposed legislation was put on the back-burner only when the media and civil society erupted in anger, but the government nevertheless moved ahead on another front — to control cyberspace.
A presidential ordinance was issued to amend the already controversial Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2016, which among other changes made defamation a non-bailable and non-cognisable offence.
Contrary to his sweeping statements about valuing the media’s role in ‘raising awareness’, Mr Khan it seems can only tolerate a pliant, unquestioning press that acts in service of his agenda. This gaslighting must end. If the former PM has evidence to prove that journalists’ loyalties have been bought by foreign powers, he should come out with it. Disinformation is condemnable, from wherever it emanates.
Published in Dawn, April 29th, 2022