Federal Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry’s assurance that there was no Pakistan Media Development Authority Ordinance, which he made on Saturday to a Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors delegation, was not as reassuring as it was emphatic. Though Mr Chaudhry said it was fake news, and said the government had not had an ordinance promulgated, he did say that there was a need to regulate print, electronic and social media. Though what had circulated on the Internet had been a concept paper, not an ordinance, obviously, there was something that reflected at least the government’s desire to control this part of the media scene. It is a little paradoxical, for the party in power had benefited from the freedom of the media when it had been in opposition, and had been able to put across its message on both conventional and unconventional media without let or hindrance.
The Minister’s assurance that any change in the way that the media is regulated would only be carried out after consulting all stakeholders is welcome, though there must be a genuine consultation, not an echo chamber where only government favourites are consulted so that it can get the kind of advice that it wants. The government should realise that any such consultations will carry no credibility and would be useless, for they would fail to unite the media behind the new measures.
Before getting into the debate on whether the new media should be regulated or not, the government might do better to work out whether it can be done at all. It might keep in mind how badly its proposal to force social-media platforms to establish offices in Pakistan fell flat, before it tries any such measure. It should not look to India, not just because the Indian government is hardly a shining example of democratic governance, but also because India is a major larger market. That means even social media companies are that much more anxious to retain a foothold there, whereas their concern to stay in Pakistan is not that great. The government must learn that the media has won its freedom the hard way, and will resist any efforts to encroach on it.