Muffling dissent | Pakistan Today

Muffling dissent

  • Are convicts deprived of free speech automatically?

In another exhibition of self-righteousness, Prime Minister Imran Khan has, with the support of the Federal Cabinet told PEMRA to ask channels to justify the airing of interviews of criminal convicts and under-trial prisoners. In short, convicts are to have something added to their sentences, and those under-trial are not to be given benefit of the presumption of innocence until proven guilty. It cannot be ignored that even convicts are in a sense under trial if they have filed an appeal against their sentence. Is this restriction going to be extended to those who have met the convict in jail, and then retail the contents of their conversations? What about those who are not yet under trial, but have been arrested by a prosecuting agency like NAB to be questioned? The ire against those who give interviews while attending Parliament under production orders from the Speaker is also not understandable. Does the production order make the member a lesser being?

It cannot be ignored that this apparent attack on the opposition is also one on the media, for such a restriction does not fall in the provisions of the Constitution, and represents an abridgement of the right of free speech. It goes without saying that the media played a major role in Imran’s rise to power, but it should not be forgotten that, to put it crudely, Imran Khan sold. If any interview, whether of a convict or a minister, was not watched or read, the station or newspaper carrying it, would lose. It should also not be forgotten that a conviction, even when it attains finality, can be found to be wrongful. Would a campaign against such a conviction be possible if people could not speak about it, or if the convict was also deprived of his right of free speech? There are a myriad other reasons why a convict may wish his voice heard, such as jail conditions or protestations of innocence.

The views of convicts must have irritated the government greatly for it to contemplate this action, but it should not forget that the media will carry it out unwillingly, and will carry interviews they deem interesting regardless. Such old-fashioned and ham-handed methods and attempts at censorship dredged up from the past have no place in Naya Pakistan.