- Senate’s concerns need to be addressed
It has become somewhat of an open secret that an abnormal amount of pressure is being put on the media, both print and electronic, to adhere to a set of instructions that trample upon its fundamental and constitutional right to free speech. The practice has evolved into a standard operating procedure executed through mostly direct and some indirect strict instructions about what can and cannot be broadcast or printed on a daily basis. Any failure to comply is dealt with consequences ranging from curtailment of advertisements to restrictions on circulation/broadcasting. Hard to ignore; the Senate Functional Committee on Human Rights on Friday formed a sub-panel to fix responsibility for this ‘undeclared censorship’ imposed on Pakistan’s media. The committee is to investigate whether or not the media regulatory authority PEMRA is to blame for the censorship- a charge the latter completely denies. That a private TV channel ran an opposition party leader’s presser without audio claiming it had been instructed by PEMRA to censor it begs the question: if not the regulator, then who is responsible? The Senate sub-committee has been mandated to seek the FIA’s help in conducting forensics of PEMRA’s phone records. An official of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) who was meant to speak at a Human Rights talk in Lahore was denied entry despite having a valid visa as he was on an Interior Ministry ‘stop list’. The same Interior Ministry runs the FIA, so the latter carrying out any meaningful investigation or ‘forensics’ of PEMRA is highly doubtful.
In the age of the Internet it is close to impossible to restrict the flow of information and genuine impactful reporting and journalism; it finds a way to get disseminated. So no matter how many column inches are trimmed off, news bulletins’ audio cut and talk shows or anchors banned, the information-hungry general public will get access. Indian atrocities in Kashmir were reported extensively by various media outlets despite the curfew because the world wanted and deserved to know about it. Whether or not Senate finds the answers it is looking for is unknown, but its concern and action certainly highlight how an active erosion of basic democratic norms is underway as the Fourth Estate is chipped away at.