The cynic and the critic
THE relationship between a government and the media is a fair indication of the state of freedom available to the citizens of a given country. The ties between this administration and the media reached its nadir in March during the lawyers’ protest against the anti-CJ reference when the police vandalised some media offices.
Later came the Pemra Amendment Ordinance that sought to impose some checks on the electronic media. Since then the situation has improved, but one must guard again a relapse. Laying the foundation stone of the National Press Club in Islamabad on Thursday, Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz said the media in Pakistan enjoyed unprecedented freedom. Mr Aziz is right, but the credit for this does not go to a government, a party or an individual; it goes first and foremost to those Pakistani journalists who have struggled ceaselessly for press freedom. The Press and Publications Ordinance, enacted during the Ayub regime, was repealed decades later when the Federal Shariat Court found it to be un-Islamic, but not before the journalists made sacrifices that ranged from arrests, “disappearances” and joblessness to whipping during the Zia regime, besides the forced closure of countless newspapers and journals. If at all there is a man who can be credited with making the first moves toward restoring the freedom of the press, it was the late Mohammad Khan Junejo.
Once the genie was out of the bottle, it was difficult for the subsequent governments to put it back, even though all regimes, including this one, continued to apply pressures in various forms. By criticising government policies, the media not only serves the nation, it helps the rulers correct themselves. The rulers must welcome this rather than resent the cynics among the critics. However, an honest appraisal of the situation around him will enable the prime minister to come to the awkward conclusion that cynics are not the media’s monopoly alone and that there is no dearth of them among the brains that run this country. Notice, for instance, a chief minister’s declaration that Gen Pervez Musharraf could be the president in uniform for life, or the gem of a thought by another chief minister that a woman’s rule was a curse. That, of course, does not give the media the freedom to cross “the line”, as observed by Mr Aziz. But neither should the government do that, we submit. It is a two-way relationship that must be based on trust and goodwill.