Strangulating saner, free voices

As one plans celebration of Freedom of Press Day on May 3rd, latest victim of media strangulation is Najam Sethi’s TV show on a local channel. The PREMRA has acted most arbitrarily on telecasting of a programme by Sethi that outlined ‘A’ and ‘B’ scheme of things slowly unfolding what is being forecast by the political pundit as possibility of ominous changes in politics of the country.

I had seen his programme and I found nothing unusual- it was much more of the same that is favourite topic of discussion following sudden replacement by Prime Minister Khan of his once favourite Finance Minister Asad Umar who, for nine months of his government, was considered as his secret weapon to destroy all our economic ills. To add insult to injury was Khan’s choice of Omar’s replacement by a man who had been discarded by President Zardari on his gross failure to streamline Pakistan’s economy in the PPPP government.

In this period of Neo-fascist regime all guns are directed against saner voices, bold voices that do not hesitate in warning of the socio-economic pitfalls and calling spade a spade. Their warnings are in order pointing towards a conspiracy to do away 18th Amendment and its replacement with Presidential system in which the President shall not be bound to the diktats of a sovereign parliament, will have a nominated ministerial council to work for him. It would not be responsible to the elected parliament as we had seen it work under General Ayub’s presidential system.

First casualty of this system was Pakistan’s federal structure. In order to strengthen his hold on the two wings, Ayub shifted federal capital from Quaid’s chosen city of Karachi to Islamabad (originally a village notoriously known as ChorPur —an abode of thieves in the region). This was first blow to Quaid’s Pakistan. Later introduction of presidential system and basic democracy as an electoral college put the final nail in federation’s coffin.

His successor President General Yahya Khan as martial law administrator further pushed the country on road to destruction. He did hold perhaps the fairest election and disposed the West Pakistani colonial concept of One Unit and restored provinces. His subsequent actions, however, proved that he had no intentions of keeping his original promise to hand over power to the elected representatives of the people. He wanted to be life time President. Instead he fractured the country’s unity. Had he accepted Sheikh Mujib’s six points for autonomy and transferred power to him as the leader of the majority party, federal Pakistan could have survived.

As if creation of Bangladesh was not a lesson enough, history was forced to be repeated when democracy based on adult franchise through Constitution of 1973 was packed up by Army Chief General Ziaul Haq, first elected prime minister of Pakistan Zulfikar Ali Bhutto hanged on trumped up charge of murder. Through oppression he castrated the democratic will of the people and clobbered journalists to silence.

Ten years of General ZIA saw political engineering by him that continued in General Musharraf’s time, were halted by Benazir Bhutto’s sacrifice in blood that raised the sapling of democracy through elections in 2008. Having survived various Praetorian machinations, country’s loli-langri (lame) democracy completed ten years to face a fresh threat to its existence. And part of it has come about in curbing freedom of press, economic strangulation of media, victimisation of journalists, forced abduction of saner voices, lengthening list of missing persons, economic closure of newspapers—these are nothing but attempts in throttling the media and forthright individuals to pave way for fostering an oppressive narrative that suits the powers that be.

To prune the liberal and secular mind set, to strangulate the upright individuals and many progressive organisations have been clamped down upon by the oppressive state machinery. Latest example being Najam Sethi’s populist tv programme. Earlier to it was action against Facebook which however was short lived.

Pakistan lost its democratic raisin d’être soon after the death of its Founder Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah and assassination of his successor Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan. His idea of secular, progressive and egalitarian Pakistan as a social welfare state was transplanted by the military, civil and judicial power troika’s concept of security state backed by retrogressive elements and bigoted forces who had opposed Pakistan and Jinnah Sahib. It finally grew into an abysmal threat to the country very aptly described as Mulla-military alliance. This alliance continues even to this day posing serious threat to Pakistan’s existence. What sort of menace this evil axis poses not only to our peaceful existence but also for others as was confessed by PM Khan during his recent visit to Iran when he accepted that some suicide bombings in Iran were staged by terrorists operating from Pakistani soil.

Obviously this confession is definitely too embarrassing but it is a fact. Now there should not be any problem to understand the American mantra to do more despite the fact that Pakistan has lost over 70,000 citizens and security personnel plus billions of dollars in economic sustenance fighting terrorism.

The future of Pakistani media, if the present conditions worsen, would be very bleak. If the observation of World Press Freedom Index that Pakistani media is ‘’priority target for the country’s deep state’’ is correct then we had it. There should not be any doubt that this problem will remain till political leaders learn that media management is not the same as control.

It is very ironic that in the latest appointment of HMV we have an information special assistant to the PM who seems to be suffering from foot in the mouth disease, is diarrheic in her occupancy of the idiot box but when it comes to answer questions about the disclosure of World Press Freedom Index about the pathetic state of Pakistan’s media heavy weight Special Assistant Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan and her information ministry have decided to stay silent on the news that Pakistan has fallen three places on the World Press Freedom Index due to increased pressure of the establishment on media houses in the country. According to Daily Times despite its several attempts to get the government’s point of view on the worsening state of media freedom, silence seems to be the option opted by the otherwise talkative special assistant.

Equally scathing is the annual report from ‘Reporters without Borders’ published right after the removal of Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry. It states ‘’numerous cases of brazen censorship in which the military exercised pressure on the media,” using examples such as the interference with a private TV channel’s broadcasting signals and disruption to the distribution of a national daily in the lead up to the 2018 general elections.

The report also underscores some of the difficulties faced by individual journalists: “Even cruder methods were deployed as the election drew closer. Intimidation, physical violence and arrests were used against journalists who crossed the red line by trying to cover stories deemed off limits by the military.”

‘The Reporters without Borders’ report also gives details of the continuing deterioration of media freedom after the general elections, noting that “the establishment has set about purging the internet and social networks of content not to its liking.” RWB also criticised the creation of Pakistan Media Regulatory Authority (PMRA) under Prime Minister Imran Khan, arguing that the organisation is for “censorship” and not “regulation”. Indeed, our heads should hang in shame to note disgustingly that Pakistan’s Press Freedom is ranking 5 places worse than Palestine, 21 places worse than Afghanistan and 22 places worse than Nigeria.

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