Hardly four months in opposition and former PM Imran Khan is moaning that there can be no real independence without free media. The realisation would have been welcomed if it was really genuine. With media having passed through a virtual nightmare during the PTI rule, many would question the credibility of the statement.
Media curbs combined with harassment of journalists multiplied during the era of reading from the same page. Senate committees received several complaints regarding intimidation from a number of media outlets. Three anchor persons with liberal and democratic views were pressured to leave in the first year of PTI rule. Within months three private TV channels were pulled off the air without following due process. The next year saw abductions of media persons. A journalist was severely beaten up by unidentified assailants outside his residence in Islamabad. Another was shot at while exercising in a park.
Independent media faced suspension of advertisements under PTI, the aim being to ruin it financially. PEMRA was used to harass media houses. Considering this insufficient the government proposed to set up the draconian Pakistan Media Development Authority through executive ordinance.
Last year the then Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry tried to cover up actions against media persons. He claimed in a TV programme that some journalists staged attacks on themselves to strengthen their case for seeking political asylum abroad. He expressed the same view in his BBC interview that some journalists are accusing ISI just to get immigration.
Imran Khan however is not yet willing to realize that he was wrong when he tried to muzzle the media and harass the journalists. He is only concerned about the crackdown against media houses and media persons airing PTI’s narrative. This is a purely partisan stand. Imran Khan should have accepted his government’s role in the suppression of media and promised never to do it again. This could have been a step towards bringing all stakeholders together to defend media freedom. Failing this, few outside his own party would pay heed to his narcissistic “if methods employed to target PTI and me are allowed to succeed, dark days of dictatorship will return when there was no space for free media ad freedom of expression.