The now ex-prime minister in one of his last acts distinguished himself by getting a shot into both feet in front of the kind of audience that would have appreciated the irony instantly. The PM was speaking at the 23rd All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS) Awards ceremony at the PM secretariat on Wednesday 30th May. He implored the media to deploy ‘a self-regulating mechanism’ and that his government had made every effort to ‘ensure freedom of expression and independence of the media as the age of censorship is over.’ On the one hand — or foot — he asked that the media operated with the handbrake on, and on the other that censorship was a thing of the past. That it is not ought to be obvious to a blind man on a very dark night.
In an attempt to avoid further self-inflicted harm he went on to say that there may be short-term gains by the imposition of censorship ‘but it never goes in the country’s interests.’ In which he is absolutely correct. He was also correct in saying that the country needs a free and fair media and that the media concentrated on the negatives rather than the positives, ignoring the fact that the government spent millions on promoting its positives using the very same media on which it was reliant for blowing its trumpet. For the media, the good news is that the government pays for the privilege of placing its advertisements.
Ironic as all the above may be and the ex-PM probably thought that he was playing a straight bat, there are constraints upon the media in Pakistan that are unwritten, invisible and overwhelmingly powerful. No media platform, electronic or otherwise, is going to criticise the establishment and if they do the effects are going to be swift, summary and ruthless. No media platform is willing to take on the clerical oligarchs as again the consequences are dreadful to contemplate. Disgusting ‘cultural’ norms that allow institutionalised paedophilia go unchallenged — and censorship is alive and shamefully well in Pakistan. No, the age of censorship is not over. Poor shooting, by the way.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 1st, 2018.