July Issue 2019
The Media’s Shrinking Space
The assault by Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s Masroor Ali Siyal, on Karachi Press Club President, Imtiaz Farhan, in a talkshow, was essentially an attack on one of Pakistan’s most democratic institutions – the press club. It was the second incident in two weeks involving a leader of the ruling party and simply exposed their intolerance for the voice of dissent.
Ironically, in the first incident, the Minister of Science and Technology, Fawad Chaudhry (a former information minister), hit a senior journalist, Sami Ibrahim at a wedding reception. Had the prime minister, or the PTI, taken notice of the first incident, the second one could have been avoided.
In the past, there have been numerous incidents in which journalists were beaten up by pressure groups, and ethnic and religious groups, but I cannot recall one involving a federal minister.
Even certain institutions, it seems, cannot tolerate any dissent. Some of the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority’s (PEMRA’s) recent decisions and the directives of the courts of law hint at the fact that a free media can be a problem for many in the state apparatus. In one of its strangest decisions, PEMRA has restricted the electronic media from airing political satire. As if this was not enough, the Islamabad High Court directed the DG PEMRA to implement its code in regard to the criticism of state institutions, including the armed forces.
Past regimes – such as that of General (R) Pervez Musharraf (2001-2008) – have often abused Article 19 of the Constitution, which provides guidelines vis-à-vis restrictions on the media.
In Pakistan there seems to be more freedom to suppress rather than express, despite the perception that the media is free to dissent. The Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA), 2016, is frequently used these days against social media activists and journalists who voice unconventional views. Journalist Shahzeb Jillani, for one, was recently charged under this law, but managed to fight and win the legal battle.
Lawyer Molvi Iqbal Haider, who initially filed the complaint against Shahzeb Jillani, is well known in journalistic and political circles for all the wrong reasons. Haider has been used in the past for filing petitions of both a political and non-political nature.
The case was disposed off by the court after the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) failed to bring any evidence and the FIR was subsequently cancelled. But the filing of the case made life quite traumatic for Jillani and his family and he has reportedly lost his job at a private TV channel as well.
There are at least seven other journalists facing two different kinds of inquiries under PECA, 2016.
Read more in Newsline’s July 2019 edition.
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