Feb 24, 2009

Broken pens

Tuesday, February 24, 2009It is said that the pen is mightier than the sword, and so that may be – but in the topsy-turvy world of Pakistan the sword is beginning to prevail over the pen and those who use it as their livelihood. Musa Khankhel was the fourth journalist to be killed in the Swat valley during the last twelve months, and within the last twenty-four hours the Wana press club has been blown up in yet another demonstration of intolerance by the extremists who now have us by the throat. Television reporters have been threatened, the houses of journalists and commentators demolished and their families intimidated. There is a determined effort to silence the messenger across the whole of the conflict zone that covers most of NWFP and all of the Tribal Agencies. One of the few things that we may thank the Musharraf regime for is the expansion of media outlets and the (relative) freedom that came with it. It was not all sunshine and roses, as the little-lamented General tried several times to get the genie back in the bottle by suppressing the unruly news channels and print media. His exit and the avowed commitment of the new government to media freedom, uncomfortable as it may be sometimes, has led us to the point at which our press and media are probably freer than at any time in the history of the nation. We have achieved those freedoms at a time when we are seeing a parallel rise in the power of extremism, and those who now seek to control the state have little or no investment in the freedoms we have beyond their desire to see us proclaim their message verbatim, unedited and without question or comment. Those who dare to challenge the writ of the emerging power are quickly the subject of threat. The totalitarianism of those who now seek to rule us will make the excesses of all past rulers pale into insignificance. The censorship of the Zia years will be as nothing against the strictures of the Taliban, and we have only to look back to the days when they ruled Afghanistan if we need a proof of what may be in store for us. Within weeks of acceding to power they had shut down or severely limited virtually every type of media outlet other than their own colourless brand of broadcast and printed news. Our rulers today cannot protect the freedoms they espouse; and with the funeral of every journalist a little piece of our freedom is buried alongside them.

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