Successive governments have had an uneasy relationship with the media in all its formats, and as those formats proliferate and gain in power and reach so expands governmental unease. The desire to regulate the media conflicts directly with a growing public awareness of, and hunger for, basic freedoms of speech. Today there are reports that the information minister is going to order an inquiry into the drafting of an ordinance that further seeks to curtail the operations and scope of the print media.
In a case of the left hand not appearing to be aware of what the right hand is up to the Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting, Marriyum Aurangzeb, has disavowed any knowledge of a proposed ordinance drafted by the Pakistan Print Media Regulatory Authority (PPMRA) that was due to be taken up by the Press Council of Pakistan (PCP) which is the national print media regulatory body. The draft ordinance seeks to impose a set of restrictions and penalties on print media organisations that do not conform to the new rules. Members of the Press Council are saying that they will not allow the item which is 8th on the agenda to be discussed.
The minister claims to be in the dark about all this and that the letters that were issued in her name relating to the ordinance were issued by officials without her permission and that those officials ‘would be proceeded against’ for ‘going behind her back’. She claimed to be a supporter of press freedoms; but it is difficult to believe that an ordinance such as this could have reached such an advanced state of maturity without her knowledge. That a certain dynamic tension exists between the fourth estate and the executive is inevitable in any state. The draft ordinance seeks to dissolve the PCP, an institution created by parliament and is a direct infringement of basic freedoms. Ministers making doubtful statements can expect to be questioned, and ministers making contradictory statements the more so. Strike down the draft ordinance.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 12th, 2017.