Mar 14, 2009

Dying of the light

Governments do not learn from past mistakes. For the second time in two years, the Geo News channel has disappeared from TV screens in most parts of the country. The orders for the channel to be banned are reported to have come straight from President Asif Ali Zardari. Governor Salmaan Taseer and Interior Advisor Rehman Malik are said to have encouraged him in this act of stupidity. It cannot be described in any other way. Information Minister Sherry Rehman, who had promised there would be no ban on media channels and had so far resisted pressure to place curbs on them, has stepped down. She has done the right thing. Another cabinet member Raza Rabbani had resigned hours ago. The PPP is tearing apart at the seams, being split into the forces of right and wrong. But those within the party who have shown moral courage must be applauded.The attempt made by President Pervez Musharraf to silence the voices of dissent in the media played a part in his eventual downfall. Geo launched a brave campaign; a new one has begun already. But leaders still do not seem to understand that in this day and age, it is simply impossible to blank out information. The ban on Geo, and it is reported other TV channel as well, will fool no one. The measures will in fact only add to the growing hatred for a presidency that has pitched itself against the people. This process has indeed already begun. If there were chances previously that the crisis could abate, these have now vanished. We had been seeing for sometime the increasingly dictatorial actions of a government bent on proving it is democratic in nothing but name. It has now over-stepped all reasonable limits. Its actions will simply not be tolerated.Against this backdrop, the reports that a bid to broker a peace deal, made by the prime minister with the backing of powerful forces have failed are disquieting. There is speculation that matters may be coming to a head. The ban on Geo and pressure on newspapers run by the same group is a sign of growing desperation. Only people who are unable to defend their actions resort to such measures. But quashing voices of criticism cannot dampen opposition. Instead it tends to expand and assume ever more powerful proportions in such circumstances. This is what is happening now. There is outrage across the country on the blatant attempt to muffle voices. These measures will not change realities but only add to the determination of people to oust autocrats and usher in a period of true democracy which respects the plurality of opinion and the basic right to free expression.

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