- A counter-intuitive strategy
PML-Q leader Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, in a letter to Prime Minister Imran Khan, has urged him to avoid a ‘confrontation with the media’ while stressing that the ‘fourth pillar of the state’ is necessary and must remain ‘stable’. Ch Shujaat had earlier voiced his concern to Mr Khan over the arrest of Jang Editor-in-chief Mir Shakilur Rehman by the NAB. His latest advice, to keep cordial relations with the media, has been prompted by the cancellation of a private television channel’s license by PEMRA. Since taking office the PTI government has been unnecessarily and excessively hostile towards any media outlet that is critical of its performance or lack thereof. Over the past two years this has manifested itself in unexplained newspaper distribution and news channel broadcast disruptions. An extension of this treatment is the selective release of government advertisements that constitute a primary source of revenue to keep any mainstream media outlet afloat. Those who toe the line have an obvious advantage over those who prefer to stick to their guns and this is an easily observable reality in the current press-government equation. Moreover, this relationship, as evidenced by recent events, is deteriorating fast. Peaceful protests led by the PFUJ outside the office of PEMRA against the suspension of TV Channel 24’s license were disrupted as guards present at the building resorted to aerial firing. Incarcerating media owners is perhaps the newest and worst form of this intimidation. Mir Shakeel was arrested close to four months ago by NAB before any formal charges had been framed for an allegedly illegal property transaction that took place 34 years ago
Attempts to stifle press freedom may be effective in the short term to punish dissent, but it is not a sustainable strategy in the long run. For any normal-functioning democratic nation to progress, a free and vibrant media is necessary. Fact-based, untainted reporting and journalism always finds a way to reach readers despite barriers and this has never been truer than now, in this age of rapid technological advancement, with the Internet making the flow of information very fluid, rapid and constant. It is counter-intuitive to think that a policy of ‘silence through fear’ will go very far. The sooner this is realized the better.