Right to express | Pakistan Today

Right to express

  • Or be absurd?

Liberty of expression is the most desired demand of the educated ones in every society but we see that this kind of liberty is not very common except a few societies; luckily or unluckily, Pakistan’s is one of those few ones. Here you can say and write whatever you like and you would remain safe until unless the person you talk about takes your words a little too seriously. Some people may say that things were quite different almost ten to fifteen years back when the electronic media was not as powerful and advanced as it is now. There was only one TV channel, PTV, which was fully under the control and command of the government and it was supported by Radio Pakistan; also a government institution.

It was the reign of President Musharaf when a media revolution brought a lot of changes in the social structure of Pakistan. Gradually this liberty of expression got another ‘wing’ to fly on, that was the social media. In the beginning, the things started in a haphazard way, people misused the newly acquired freedom or liberty of expression, knowingly or unknowingly but later on, the government of Pakistan introduced and implemented different rules and regulations to channelise this liberty of expression. Now the situation is very much in control. Pakistan is now ranked very high in the list of countries where everyone is allowed to say everything using any medium of his own choice.

The fact of the matter is that freedom of expression does not mean a license to ‘ooze out’ every filthy idea that comes to a mind particularly in countries like Pakistan

Experts say that freedom of expression is no doubt a very positive trait but it becomes very dangerous rather disastrous if unchecked and without restrictions. To avoid any unpleasant situation with reference to the freedom of expression, though the government of Pakistan has introduced new rules and regulations but still there are some factions of society which are simply distorting the simple face of things, knowingly or unknowingly, by misusing freedom of expression. Unfortunately most of such factions are supported, guided, pushed-up and even financed by some hostile foreign elements like the RAW, NDS and to some extent the CIA. Defaming the armed forces and the intelligence agencies of Pakistan is one of the most favourite topics for the people belonging to these factions.

Keeping the freedom of expression under some control has always been a very serious issue particularly for the countries with a low literacy rate. In Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has recently taken a serious step in this particular context. She introduced an act with the name of Digital Security Act 2018 for putting a check on the misuse of freedom of expression. According to this Act a journalist could be convicted of espionage for entering a government office and gathering information secretly using an electronic device. The offence would carry a 14-year jail sentence. This act forbids spreading of negative propaganda about the country’s war of independence or about its founding leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman using a digital device.

In case of violation, a life sentence is suggested. According to different Bangladeshi newspapers, when the cabinet approved this act, hundreds of Bangladeshi journalists took to the streets and protested against this digital security bill. The campaigners said this law would damage media freedom in the country. Different media rights groups including the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) have condemned the bill because according to them the act provides more grounds to grossly misuse the provisions to harass journalists and restrict freedom of expression. Protest against the DSA 2018 is getting severer by the day in Bangladesh and Sheikh Hasina’s government is under a very serious public pressure. Unfortunately most of her advisers belong to India; they have a very typical prejudiced type of angle of looking at things. Moreover they have their own vested interests; it seems so they don’t want her move in the right direction.

But in Pakistan the situation regarding liberty of expression is somewhat different. Most of the people here are very sincere to the motherland; the political process is gradually getting stronger; democracy is gaining strength and above all the system of accountability is running faster. Every day here is a better day but the problem lies with those few ones who are misguided by the notion that the armed forces are a ‘wind’ that always blows counter to democracy. They think that by demoralising the security forces, they are strengthening democracy. To materialise their stupid philosophy they use freedom of expression as a tool.

The fact of the matter is that freedom of expression does not mean a license to ‘ooze out’ every filthy idea that comes to a mind particularly in countries like Pakistan where the armed forces and law enforcement agencies in collaboration with the judiciary have to play a very vibrant role in keeping the country safe and secure. We don’t need any Bangladesh type Digital Security Act but we do need a specific demarcation of limits with reference to the freedom of expression. No reporter, analyst or TV anchor must be allowed to create any misunderstanding among different national institutions including the army, the judiciary and the parliament.