It is shocking that all political parties in the Punjab Assembly chose to close ranks in a frontal attack on the media. Following criticism of the media in the house earlier in the week, a resolution condemning the media – moved by a PML-N legislator – was unanimously adopted by the assembly on Friday.
In speeches following the passage of the resolution lawmakers made highly derogatory remarks about the media, using terms such as ‘blackmailers’, while a particularly absurd allegation was that the media was creating a civil war-like situation in the country. The resolution and the speeches have rightfully sparked protests among journalists. Commentators have said the anti-media tirade, prompted by the fake degrees’ issue, is a reaction by the PML-N as the party fears the fall of its government in Punjab if a large number of lawmakers are disqualified. Interestingly it was the PML-N which first raised the degrees’ issue in the National Assembly.
Due to protests against the anti-media moves parties have begun to distance themselves from the resolution. However, the claim that mover Sanaullah Mastikhel violated party discipline as the resolution did not reflect the party line is not convincing. Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif was present in the house when the drama was playing itself out, while the speaker suspended normal proceedings to allow the verbal lashing of the media. While there do exist black sheep in the media that violate journalistic ethics and while some sections tend to display a sensationalist streak, the solution lies in internal regulation, not arm-twisting by the government. If lawmakers feel they have been wronged by the media they have the right to respond – in a rational way. Muzzling freedom of expression is unacceptable. Part of the resolution says that the media’s “propaganda would hurt democracy”. The lawmakers must decide what will hurt democracy more: reporting the facts or resorting to authoritarian measures. Journalists protesting outside the Punjab Assembly were right in saying that as long as news kept coming, they would keep reporting it. If the politicians fear negative attention from journalists, they should try to put their own house in order.