Freedom of Expression | Pakistan Today

Freedom of Expression

  • Two PM’s Special Assistants hold forth

PM’s Accountability Special Assistant Shahzad Akbar has said that freedom of expression cannot be restricted in this day and age. Actually, he was right when he said this on Saturday at a dialogue on the future of parliamentary demoracy in Islamabad, but that has not stopped the government he belongs to from trying. There are multiple levels of censorship at work, despite the freedom of expression guaranteed by the Constitution, with shadowy figures creating a strange fear among newspapermen, as an incentive towards self-censorship, which would allow the government to claim that there was no censorship. What appears most enervating is the waffling by the government, which manifests itself in an apparent inability to decide who is disliked, and who is kosher. In the Ayub era, which Prime Minister Imran Khan has recently expressed admiration for, censorship did take place, but it was clear who was to be blacked out.

PM’s Information Special Assistant Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan, in her remarks to the press on the same day, while condoling the death of a TV cameraman the same day, said that the financial crisis of the media industry would be brought to an end. However, her relating this to the freedom of expression was making a connection where none exists. If anything, the absence of freedom of expression is another worry, along with the financial crisis, for workers and managers in the media industry, but how the two are linked, cannot be seen.

Again, one has to hark back to the Ayub era, the creation of the National Press Trust, as an umbrella under which publications were drawn when they were nationalised to convert them from critics of the regime to mouthpieces. The government would do better to be part of the solution, than part of the problem, by allowing media an inevitable freedom. Part of the problem is the state allowing over-enthusiastic guardians of public morality freedom, while preventing artists from exercising their freedom. An exhibition in Karachi was the start, and currently a film is the subject of ire. It is possible to see all of this as a result of the success of the illegal and secretive restrictions on the media. Inevitably, restrictions degenerate, going from state interest to mere whimsy. That final stage, when no conceivable state interest can be perceived, has apparently been reached.