Non-negotiable for PPP
Democracy and freedom of media are indispensible to each other. Their co-relationship is cherished for making qualitative difference in the political economy. For, they supplement the cause of each other to create enabling conditions for the nation to tread on the trajectory of stability, peace, prosperity and above all standing on the platform with respectable nations with soft image.
Those who contemplate to muzzle the freedom of media indeed undermine the country by pushing it on the trajectory of indignities, stagnation, humiliations and retrogression boarding a banana republic. Fortunately, the people of Pakistan and the political leadership are determined to defend it at whatever cost considering it as their profound obligation. It is very reassuring for country’s democracy. These anti-media forces are seemingly hugely mistaken and overestimate their reach in the face of people holding democracy and freedom of media in the highest esteem.
Freedom of expression and media are as close to the hearts of all Pakistanis as the constitution itself that guarantees freedom of speech and freedom of media as a distinctive feature of democratic dispensation, which Pakistan is. Without this, the claim of democratic distinction will be totally a sham, merely devoted to beat the praise of the incumbent governments allegorical to a mere propaganda entity projecting platitudes rather than substance.
In democracy, free debates and discussions are thoughtfully perceived as instruments of integrated development of the nation through the robust participation of men and women to address the social imbalances comprehensively. In the tyrannically ruled countries, these are deemed as instrument of creating fault lines among the people.
Who will not judge the well- established democracies as stable and well developed countries serving wholeheartedly to their people? On the contrary, the despotic rulers present the despicable picture of them who trample upon the fundamental rights of the people with impunity. They are indeed the ugly faces deserving opprobrium and disapproval of all.
PPP is the name of unabated struggle striving for establishing a tolerant/democratic Pakistan in which people of the country are the final arbiter, leading their collective and individual lives in an enabling environment while people enjoying fundamental rights of citizenry indiscriminately.
Their empowerment has been the center of gravity of the struggle of the PPP even under the watch of ferocious dictatorship that imposed censorship to suppress the voice of the people.
However, PPP along with the journalist community was the torch bearer in the struggle to win the freedom back from despots and from their apologists as guaranteed under the 1973 Constitution. PPP workers were subjected to torture and jail imprisonment but they continued the struggle with journalist community against dictators who gagged the press and made the working conditions for journalist community miserable by using the coercive powers derived from the draconian Press and Publication Ordinance, 1960.
Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has time and again has expressed solidarity with the journalists in unequivocal terms declaring to defend and promote this freedom no matter what. Recently, PPP leader Nafisa Shah visited the Jang and Geo offices to express solidarity of the Party with them during telling times when this section of media in particular is being targeted for upholding the higher standards of professionalism in the field of journalism.
PPP and journalist community of Pakistan had hugely suffered at the hands of the dictators and dictatorships during the common struggle against harsh anti-media laws. But, they never gave in to the strong arms tactics like persecutions, solitary confinement, witch-hunting ‘flogging and lashing by General Ziaul Haq. They succeeded in wresting democracy and the freedom of media from the jaws of dictator after all. Today’s democracy largely owed to the same arduous struggle. But, the mindset and the anti-democratic forces have not reconciled fully with the relevance and importance of the fourth pillar of the state, and therefore do resort to its archaic notoriety in a bid to strangulate the media through egregious manners in their quest to attain central stage for wreaking more havoc on the society. But, such tactics cannot escape the gaze and scrutiny of the public in general and of media in particular. The reaction of the civil society in the recent past in this count speaks volumes as how freedom of media is close to the hearts of the people of this country.
Article 19 of the Constitution guarantees the freedom of speech and expression with reasonable limits as defined in the primary law of the land, Constitution. The same article limits this freedom making it obligatory to stop short of criticising the judiciary, religion, army, relations with other countries, and federation in lopsided and unguarded manners. Admittedly, absolute freedom cannot be imagined or exercised in a free for all environments. At the same time, the imposition of reasonable limits should not go too far tantamount to gagging the freedom of speech and media. Maintaining delicate balance between freedom of media and reasonable limits of law is critical as prevalent in developed countries. In the recent past, the media has been facing this unhealthy situation somewhat analogous to curtailment of the freedom of media to a degree generating estrangement among the media organisations and beyond.
The responsibility part of the freedom is undoubtedly important that cannot be and should not be at the expense of each other. Responsibility gives the real meaning to freedom conceptually and practically in perfect harmony with the best democratic practices. Rights and responsibility are inseparable as without either the theory or its suitability may wither away in the thin air. English proverb neatly and subtly explains this relationship, ‘my right to swing my arms ends where your nose begins’. The freedom of one may not be a source of tyranny for other or others.
PPP will not support any move from any side if it is fabricated to gag the press and its freedom. PPP had lunched scintillating struggle in the past along with the journalist community to win the battle against the hostile and powerful forces that were up against such freedom for their own callous considerations. The journalistic community has been repeatedly assured by the top leadership of PPP during myriad times that the Party will stand with them to protect the freedom of press considering it as the highest obligation bestowed upon it by its ideology. Its irrefutable track record of protecting and promoting this freedom of media sprouts from its unwavering faith in the democratic dispensation. It fully understands the genesis of democracy and freedom of media as the process of consolidation of democratic gains cannot move in the right direction without. It helps people to gain more control of their collective lives through their incremental empowerment that is what democracy is all about.
Freedom of expression is indeed the bedrock of a democratic dispensation. Opposition Leader Syed Khursheed Shah while talking to media last week underscored the importance of freedom of media when he asserted in these words, ‘differentiates between dictatorship and democracy is freedom of speech and expression. It may be exercised responsibly within the ambit of the constitutional law’. We have seen in the recent past that the state institutions have been under criticism by section of media and of political leadership that may be deemed as crossing the reasonable limits imposed by the relevant law. The PPP does not endorse fanning of confrontation among the institutions under the one pretext or another. It may be recalled that the judiciary had handed out judgments against the PPP leaders but it never took to the street to protest against the institutions notwithstanding its outright rejection of such decisions of the court. The clause of the constitution to observe reasonable limits as imposed by law put big responsibility on the shoulders of courts as they have to walk on tight rope to maintain the delicate balance in favour of the freedom of media.
Lately, the projection of the Lahore High Court order, putting temporary bans on Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz‘s anti-judiciary speeches for two week, was projected by the media as ban on their speeches altogether. The chief justice, however, clarified the position when he observed that the reporting was totally further from the spirit of the Lahore High Court order that did not impose ban on the speeches of the PML-N leaders as being projected in the news media. The Article 19 of the Constitution only prohibits the criticism of the judiciary as an institution that hurts its repute and as such unacceptable under the law. However, the criticism of the judgments of the court is quite legitimate within the scope of freedom of speech and media. Judgments after their pronouncement are public documents that are subject to intense scrutiny by legal experts, political analysts and by the people who may be affected by such decisions. That is quite within the ambit of law and may be accepted as such.