Feb 28, 2009

Bad news

A report in this newspaper speaks of dangerous moves afoot to try and chain the media. At least one adviser to the president is said to be advising the placing of curbs on the print and electronic media. The Punjab governor backs these calls and has indeed been insisting for months that certain 'media channels' were creating national instability. Apparently he fails to see that it is his own actions that have created the mess we are in today, rather than anything the media could have managed. There is ugly talk of 'hit lists' and of certain TV networks facing restrictions. The fact that Mr Taseer himself is a media owner somewhat complicates matters.The information minister has, as would be expected of a former journalist, warned she would be left with no choice but to step down if asked to engage in any act of arm-twisting. At this point, she would also do well to remind the president's men seeking bars of the damage this caused to the Musharraf regime. The wave of national and international condemnation that followed the ban of certain TV channels was, in many ways, a step in the former president's final undoing.Only sheer stupidity would drive the current leadership to walk down the same path. Attempts to stifle free expression will simply not be accepted by the people of Pakistan. Indeed, on streets in Punjab and elsewhere the mood is already hostile. Any efforts now to turn the guns towards the media will only direct further anger towards the government and act to weaken it. The lessons of the past need to be absorbed and comprehended. The reports from Islamabad suggest this has not happened and the powers that be have still not realized just how disastrous any assault on the right to information would be at this point in time.

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