So much for Pakistan Media Development Authority | Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Pakistan Press Foundation

So much for Pakistan Media Development Authority

Pakistan Press Foundation

That Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb put anything and everything to do with the controversial Pakistan Media Development Authority (PMDA) to rest as soon as she took office shows that PML-N (Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz) learnt valuable lessons not just from its previous stints in government, but also during its time in the political wilderness.

It also sends the right message that the new government wants to sit down with all stakeholders to figure out what to do about all the other ways in which the PTI (Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf) government tried to gag the press as well, especially PECA (Prevention of Electronic Crimes) Amendment Ordinance 2022. And surely she’ll find nobody disagreeing with the idea that the Journalist Protection Law should be “implemented in true letter and spirit”.

There can be no denying that the PTI government developed a particular dislike for most media outlets very early in its tenure; even though the industry as a whole played perhaps the biggest role in catapulting the party to power. And it didn’t just shower any journalists and their bosses that didn’t completely agree with them with the vilest adjectives, the former administration also went out of its way to institutionalize an old-fashioned silencing of popular media.

It resorted to all the tricks that authoritarian governments of the past introduced, like holding back government advertisements, harassing journalists, some of whom also disappeared, and even forcing self-censorship. Proposed watchdogs like PMDA never sat well with anybody in the industry because nobody in government could answer questions about why the law of the land as it is shouldn’t apply to media as well and why must there be tribunals and commissions, that too headed by bureaucrats, to control what is after all a pillar of the state?

Amendments to PECA that attached jail terms to defamation cases also betrayed a disturbing disregard for freedom of expression and a desire to silence all opposition very forcefully.

The latter charge is also backed by the fact that right throughout its tenure the PTI government clearly didn’t care much about legislation, and the trouble that it required, and instead went on a spree of getting important things done through presidential ordinances. In short, over time it became very clear that PTI wanted an environment where anybody that didn’t agree with it wholeheartedly would be ridiculed, accused of corruption and bribery in their journalism, and also punished by new laws of the state.

Democratic dispensations, however, thrive on debate and discussion. PMDA was a very crude initiative designed precisely to discourage the kind of exchange that is needed to move past lingering political differences in the interest of the people and the state. But when one party wants the system all to itself, to the exclusion of all others, and bends its levers to suit only its own interests, then it is not entirely surprising to see the system reset itself in one way or the other.

The media industry, to its credit, stood its ground and resisted PTI’s stranglehold right to the end. That, after all, is an integral part of its job. The new government is no stranger to the resilience of the press in hard times, so it must be careful about putting its best foot forward as it goes about solving some of the biggest problems that Pakistan has ever faced.

It must also know that it is not the job of the media to comment on parties or personalities. Instead, its focus must remain on policies. Therefore, so long as the new government, which is made up of numerous parties, keeps its eye on the ball and does its job properly, the media will have no issues with it. But should it begin to put itself above or before the country itself, then it should be prepared to find itself filling the headlines for all the wrong reasons.

Source: Business Recorder (Editorial)

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