Media under fire
It seems that the chains are being readied once again for the media. Their ominous rattle was heard yesterday in the Dawn report that the government has convened a meeting of the “media coordination committee of defence planning” to thrash out “policy guidelines” for private electronic and print media organisations.
Proposals submitted by the foreign affairs’ ministry, the information ministry, the cabinet division and the army’s Joint Staff Headquarters are to be deliberated with the goal of evolving “a policy for tuning in the private media to national outlook and securing national security interests”. Another report states that the government has introduced a bill in parliament to impose fresh restrictions.
This echoes disturbingly of attempts by earlier regimes to undermine media freedom. It indicates that the government is joining hands with the military to consider codes that could amount to censorship and the violation of the public’s right to untainted news reporting. Beyond the fact that the ‘committee’ was so far unheard of, why have media representatives not been invited? Last November, editors of Pakistan’s 16 major TV channels agreed upon a code of conduct to ensure that public interests are not jeopardised. This self-regulation of the media must not be interfered with in a top-down fashion. The meeting’s agenda also says that “A charge on glorification of terrorism offence could be lodged or registered if a publication of a statement glorify the commission, create sensation of preparation of acts of terrorism … [sic]”. This would allow the hate-mongers to carry on, while media houses are penalised for reporting their statements.
The foreign ministry suggests that Â“our media strategy should encompass a balance between political and economic reporting, positive and negative news, emotionalism and objectivity, freedom and responsibility”. This could lead to media houses being dictated their content. Regardless of what codes are hammered out, convening the meeting shows that the country’s leadership remains intolerant of media organisations that report freely on matters inextricably linked to the citizenry’s wellbeing. The state should remember that past regimes have tried similar tactics to muzzle the media and failed. Censorship is a swamp that no government should get bogged down in.