Musharraf versus freedom of media

Published September 5, 2009

THIS is apropos of Junaid Yunus's letter, 'Trying Zia and his accomplices' (Aug 20). The writer has lashed out at Zia's anti-democratic policies and praised Musharraf, terming him 'champion' of freedom of the press. This is an unjustified view because Musharraf never promoted the media.

Throughout the chequered history of Pakistan, the media has been ruthlessly attacked, time and again. The vicious military rulers and non-democratic civilian governments have subjugated this vital national institution through draconian laws.

Like the past regimes, Musharraf also endeavoured to keep the media under control. For this, he replaced the revised Press and Publication Ordinance (PPO was imposed by Ayub Khan and revised by the interim government following the death of Gen Zia) in 2002 with a number of new ordinances pertaining to the media. These laws were against the media in content while sounding liberal in form.

Moreover, Musharraf went on to establish the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) in the same year as a watchdog to curb freedom of the media in the country.

Under the umbrella of regulating TV channels, this state-backed institution served as an instrument to bring the media under state control.

There is no doubt that the media has flourished with the dawn of the present century. Scores of private channels have started operating for the first time in Pakistan. However, this revolutionary change has happened not because of Musharraf, but the 50-year-long struggle for press freedom and evolution taking place in telecommunications.

TV channels telecasting from outside the country could not be curbed despite rigorous attempts by the Musharraf government.

During the darkest days of the Musharrf rule, dozens of offices of private TV channels were attacked, hundreds of reporters were beaten and arrested and their equipment sealed.

According to a recent report, in 2007 Pakistan was ranked 157 out of 167 nations in terms of freedom of the press in the country. These embarrassing figures have, to some extent, improved to 152 under the ongoing democratic setup in the country.

The present democratic dispensation must immediately revisit regressive laws imposed by the Musharraf government against the media. Furthermore, it must allow more media freedom so that the media can play its due role in stabilising Pakistan.

The Media and the nation rise and fall together. A toothless media symbolises a weak state. Let us ensure that the media should play its constitutional role.

ZAHID IQBAL SOOMRO
Larkana

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