- Pushing the envelope
The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf seems to be upping the rhetoric in its campaign against the freedom of the press, what with its official website firing off about two dozen tweets, some in Urdu, the others in English, lambasting the press for criticism, and warning that it could be deemed anti-state. The implied threat was that criticism of the party could be equated with treason to the state. The tweets warned that while freedom of speech was the beauty of democracy, expressing the enemy’s stance was treason. The question naturally arises, who is the enemy? Another country? Or other parties? Is criticism of the head of government allowed, or is he, like Louis XIV of France, the state personified? Is the press to understand that any criticism of Prime Minister Imran Khan is to be treated as treason?
It almost feels like a return to the Ayub Khan era, when there were ruthless controls clamped on the Press. However, unlike the Ayub era’s clearly defined government orders, there was none of the deniability of today, when TV channels can be taken off air without anyone apparently knowing who gave the orders. Then affected persons, like members of the press, would know who had issued the order, and could go and dicker. Now, all this is done anonymously. The tweets are an example. They have been denied by the party itself, which continues to proclaim how it is promoting press freedom.
True press freedom means that inconvenient truths will be unveiled from time to time, and will cause embarrassment to those responsible. By the nature of things, that means members of the government. The solution is to improve governance, and thus remove any cause of complaint, not shoot the messenger, such as by trumping up charges of treason. (By the way, treason charges have an old and undistinguished history behind them. They have been so misused that now they will only redound on the heads of those making the charge.) It should never be forgotten that the people of Pakistan value free media, not because it is entertaining, but because it helps them make choices at election time. Any attempt to dilute this will not be spared, not because the average citizen is a defender of rights, but because he is a concerned consumer.