The shoe is on the other foot. Not snugly, because the instances haven’t been as stark, but the other foot it is. Journalists that had hitherto before been seen to almost be cheering the abductions and alleged manhandling by the state of other journalists, are now facing some of such behaviour themselves. Don’t get us wrong; they aren’t being physically attacked and whisked over to the ‘northern areas’, the by-now gold standard euphemism with which to describe deep state safehouses. No, there are only FIRs being registered against them, in an all too familiar pattern. Especially when one checks the nature of the charges against them.
This is crass behaviour, regardless of who does it and who is subjected to it. State institutions that can be threatened by program anchors and YouTubers need more introspection into their fragility. If Sami Ebrahim, who gets out of breath while climbing the stairs of the Islamabad High Court, can intimidate a nuclear-powered nation, then perhaps we need a hard reset.
In the marketplace for ideas, all views, beliefs and analyses are to be allowed, even if one disagrees with them. To state the obvious: what is illegal in law, like incitement to violence, for instance, or something that is completely slanderous, can be dealt with by the law itself, that too, at its own time and pace. Criminal defamation, the sort that has been facilitated by the likes of PECA, is also hopefully going to see an end soon enough.
Which brings us to the PML-N. Not many had high expectations from the previous government on the issue of press freedom; even their supporters seemed giddy at the prospect of seeing journalists critical of the government being targeted.
There were, however, different expectations from the current dispensation. Yes, we know how the media cookie crumbles in Pakistan and the extent to which the political dispensation would have been involved in this spate of FIRs, but the PDM is the government. Officially, the buck stops there. They have to not only make sure these journalists are not harmed, they should also be seen to be making sure these journalists aren’t harmed.
A commitment to free news media should be above party and ideological lines.