- The government needs it too
The latest press freedom index of the Reporters Without Borders (Reporters Sans Frontières) does not give the PTI government good news. Pakistan has slid three places, to 142 of 180. Apart from the fact that this might cause international pressure to build, the government itself does not benefit unless the press is free. As the report remarks, the attempt to create a Pakistan Media Regulatory Authority is an attempt to impose censorship. The report accompanying the index does not contain anything that is not common knowledge among the media: that the state engages in coercion of sometimes blatant kinds, such as preventing newspaper distribution, or blocking news channel signals, to ensure that only its version of the truth gets through. The threat of blocking advertisements was also used, showing that even though the world has moved on, the government still relies on traditional means of control.
The report also singles out Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan as places where journalists could get killed. While people may enter journalism with a commitment to truth, no one forsees the possibility of getting killed. So far, Pakistani newsmen have not faltered, but journalism is not supposed to be a fatal profession. The level of state interest in press freedom can be gauged from how it has reacted to these murders.
The state should not just realise the reality of the press as a necessary counterweight to more official sources of information, with their ‘all-is-well’ refrain, but embrace it. It must realise that shooting the messenger is not the best way of dealing with bad news. It needs to be realised by all that the traditional means of controlling the message were developed by a colonial regime, and those methods were replicated by military regimes. The present regime should realise that it will not be able to bring about any change in society unless media, both print and electronic, are free to inform what is happening in the state. It should not forget its own time in the opposition, when it depended on the media, not just to inform it of what was happening, but also providing it a platform on which it could reach out to its electorate and pass on its point of view.