Freedom of expression

Freedom of expression

As a matter of necessity, federal government had to decide on Tuesday in its meeting chaired by the Prime Minister Imran Khan to impose restriction on media coverage of under trial and convicted political elite, who were bent upon maligning the state intuitions in the garb of freedom of expression. Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) has been instructed to fulfill its regulatory responsibility and discourage airing such programmes on electronic media.

The readers of print media and viewers of electronic media now expect from the owners and editorial boards of media houses to observe professional ethics and objectivity like the mass media outlets in other democratic countries. But unfortunately neither print media has attained professional maturity over the past seven decades nor has the electronic media reached to that level in the past 25 years. Most often national interest is compromised for the vested interest. The precedents of overstretching the concept of freedom of expression in Pakistan can hardly be found in the mother of democracies, the UK and the neighbouring biggest democracy of the world, India.

Certain media houses and some anchors and journalists associated with them sometimes directly attack state institutions and sometimes between the lines carry out smear campaign against them. In case of electronic media PEMRA does not perform its due role as a regulator because of political appointments on top slots which were made by the previous PML-N government. There are also instances of double standard by the regulator. A few days ago the recorded interview of former President Asif Ali Zardari was pulled off air shortly after airing on a private TV Channel. But on the contrary, live telecast of the most damaging press conference about the doctored video and audio tapes by PML-N Vice President Maryam Nawaz was allowed for more than one and half hour. The outstanding and well respected member of legal fraternity and senior PPP leader BaristerAitizazAhsan has questioned the authenticity of this video and wondered as to why PML-N leadership has not rushed to the court in the light of what they call important evidence.

Interestingly, as an eyewash exercise notices were sent several hours after the ending of the press conference to 21 private TV channels. Chairman PEMRA is a public servant and should not serve as loyalist of political party notwithstanding his appointment on this lucrative position by the last PML-N government in May, 2018. The usage of two different yardsticks gave lethal ammunition to PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari for bashing the PTI government and branding it fascist. Addressing a press conference in Islamabad he questioned when the interviews of former President Musharraf, arrested Indian RAW agent KalboshanJadehev and captured pilot AbhiNandan can be aired then why the interview of former President Asif Ali Zari was pulled off air just after airing on a private TV Channel.

The role of a section of print media is also detrimental to national interest. The publication of fabricated news story of “Dawn leaks” and its lifting and angling by the Indian and western media buttressed the Indian narrative against Pakistan. It was a deliberate attempt to negate the sacrifices of the people and armed forces of Pakistan in their fight against terrorism. A senior journalist, who all along exhibits apparent piety and honesty of character and is associated with another leading and largely circulated English daily newspaper, indirectly maligned a state institution in his so called investigative news story the other day. This sort of stuff will certainly be picked by the US media and used against the government of Pakistan during the upcoming visit of the Prime Minister. Does this game of dirty tricks not damage the national interest?

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