Media still not free



June 11, 2022

Media Still Not Free

There is no denying the fact that Pakistani media faced the rigours of persecution and had to pay a heavy price for retaining its position as one of the cardinal pillars of the polity. The rigorous attitude adopted by the arbitrary forces in playing havoc with almost all independent institutions in the country was clearly visible throughout the last many years and it increased manifold during the previous hybrid regime. It was expected that the advent of a new dispensation would relax the vicious grip on the media but this expectation has not materielised so far. It is widely recognised that media coverage in Pakistan is still not and media personnel are fettered by quite a corpus of regulations. Moreover, they have the good sense to stay clear of the imaginary lines drawn by unseen regulators who are very whimsical in perceiving matters and pretty unforgiving in their intent.

It must also be kept in mind that regulating media according to legalistic or administrative considerations is a futile effort because media acts on compulsions of social flows and it resembles a wave that makes its own way. Media is by nature irreverent and possesses a healthy disrespect for human action that is often reflected in its coverage. It may not prove successful to confine the free spirit of media within a system that usually represents a one-way traffic amenable to specified chains of command and operating spheres. It is very pertinent to observe that media possesses the unrivalled quality of self-assessment and it should be left to the discretionary vitality of media to set its course of action.

It is now a common knowledge that Pakistani media is under tremendous duress and is unable to break the shackles limiting it severely. Pakistani media that was just a few years ago widely acclaimed as the image-maker now is considered a trouble maker inciting some very powerful segments of the polity to gag it as much as possible. To their chagrin, however, it is a fact that that media is also a necessity as it not only provides information but also mirrors the societal movement. These powerful stakeholders concede the conceptual importance of media but debate its functional aspect. So the urge to cut the media down to size is of paramount importance to many stakeholders and they keep on venturing to achieve their objective.

The scope of media freedom in the context of the law of criminal contempt, the balance between the right of freedom of expression and preserving the integrity of the system of justice and upholding public confidence in judiciary, the obligation and responsibilities of a reporter, publisher, broadcaster and editorial management and the restrictions required to be observed in order to ensure one-sided dominance is certainly thing of the past even in an imbalanced country as Pakistan. The ideal circumstances for development vouched by the powerful segments of the country may be relevant to tightly controlled and limited premises but not to the sprawling place that the country is with its typical diversities and aspirations.

The questions raised by the media are pertinent mirroring the public aspirations that the media have made vigilant about their rights though they may still not be considered in majority but the way in which social consciousness has been garnered promises to make the country more conscious about the actual reality and the version of reality purported by the powerful segments of the country. This is precisely the worry harboured by the elite minority that hates coming out of its utopian and privileged existence and therefore is intent upon placing barricades against such development. These segments are unmindful that media cater to the natural human curiosity that also remains curious about highly contentious matters of public importance particularly political developments and it falls under the primary domain of the media to bring them to fore. It must also be kept in mind that the public opinion is prone to interpret matters according to their perceptions and the next step in this seminal exercise is conjecturing though it may not be accurate but unfortunately it is the natural corollary of any contention.

It must also be noted that in the absence of any formal channel of ascertaining public opinion media is the only way-out to obtain it. In doing so media is actually performing a national service and any attempt to discourage it from doing so may tantamount to curbing free exercise of opinion. The objection raised about the so-called objectionable contents of talk shows actually contradicts itself when it is widely believed that protecting press freedom and freedom of speech is of paramount importance for strengthening the democratic process and upholding the rule of law. It is quite cumbersome to separate the public expression of views from freedom and what is needed is to reassess the contours of freedom itself and the validity of expression. TW

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