Moves on the media

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Pemra has been ‘called upon’ to suspend, and eventually cancel, the licences of Geo TV. Rules are being used from the Pemra Ordinance pertaining to the “sovereignty, integrity and security” of the country. Precedents are dangerous things. Should any attempt be made to clamp down on Geo TV following the complaint made against its coverage of the issue of the murder attack on senior journalist Hamid Mir and the fingers being pointed in the affair, it would be a particularly damaging blow to our democracy and all that it stands for. Reports are already coming in of Geo’s transmissions having been forcibly shut down in several areas. It should be clear that Geo is not guilty of the ludicrous accusations lodged against it with Pemra. Neither has it outright accused the ISI chief of being guilty in the affair. The freedom of the media is after all essential to any country that claims to run along democratic lines. No institution, no individual, no organisation has any right to intervene in this. Of course the media, as a powerful organ which influences people, must exhibit responsibility in all that it broadcasts and writes. Mistakes in this respect are made from time to time in our country – as they are all over the world. But the issue concerning the wrath of the ISI regarding the accusations it says were made against its chief is one that should never have been taken so far. Such affairs can be sorted out between Pemra and the channel itself. Where necessary, any violation of the Pemra code of conduct can be discussed and laid-down action taken. Going beyond this would be a huge disservice to the nation and its people. In this case, the media is essentially being told that retribution should be expected should certain institutions or individuals from them ever be crossed. The last time power was abused was when Pervez Musharraf shut down news channels that were critical of his imposition of emergency.

A mindset that believes that any criticism of one’s action or any questioning of one’s motives is tantamount to threatening the country only goes to show the excessively high regard some institutions hold themselves in – at the cost of others. True patriotism, borne out of love for country, demands that those who hold power be held accountable and are subject to tough questioning. What is happening now in the form of the threat to Geo TV could affect anyone else, any other media body in the future. Games of one-upmanship must not be played and petty politics abandoned. There were reports that Defence Minister Khwaja Asif was opposed to approaching Pemra. He too has come in for a lot of flak after some of his old speeches surfaced and were played ad nauseum on television. The government should be able to play its role without being intimidated or influenced by any quarters and by standing on the side of what lies within our constitution. The government and the military both need to ensure that they act in the interest of the country and its people as a whole. What we need at this time is good sense, reason and fair play above all else. What is of paramount importance is to defend the freedom of the media and ensure it can function as a means to bring news and opinion of every kind to people. Tolerance for this opinion must increase. A blanking out of screens could only worsen the situation we already face and add to the lack of transparency we already suffer from in a country where too many secrets lurk.

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