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EditorialPolitical vigilantism against media freedom

Political vigilantism against media freedom

Though an announcement by the leadership of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) about launching a public campaign for media freedom next week is commendable, yet the party itself is accused of stifling press freedom during its tenure. It was the PTI-led government that had introduced the Pakistan Media Development Authority (PMDA), allegedly with an aim to keep control of media houses. However, the law was later scrapped by the PML-N government that assumed power in April 2022. It shows that political parties keep their self-interest supreme while implementing press freedom laws. Even the elected leadership takes media as a threat to their rule and introduces laws to curb media freedom. Now, the PTI is accusing the PML-N government of orchestrating a campaign against those media houses and journalists who have a soft corner for the former. Not only political parties, a conflict also exists among mainstream media outlets who become a party in certain cases. So, press freedom remains a tricky situation in Pakistan, where big media houses rely on propaganda for getting good ratings or to support a particular political party, which suits their interests.

The latest move by the PTI for press freedom has been taken after a private television channel, ARY News, was taken off air in several cities of Pakistan last week after Khan’s chief of staff, Dr. Shehbaz Gill, said military personnel should not follow the commands of their top officials if they were “against the sentiments of the masses.”

Whether it is PTI or the PML-N, putting curbs on media is a clear violation of the right to free speech. The misuse of media regulations for achieving political aims will not bring any good. In fact, it is one of the tactics that authoritarian regimes use to control media. Media freedom is critically necessary for a democratic and progressive society. It acts as a public watchdog and provides an impetus for positive changes in society. Though curbs on media are increasing, it must not retreat. The media should continue to play its due role in society. It should keep the right of people to information intact at all costs. At the same time, the media also needs to act sensibly and should not adopt biased attitudes. Strict adherence to rules and media ethics must be upheld in line with democratic norms.

Press freedom can only be ensured when all stakeholders will play their due role in a positive manner. Stifling press freedom is bad for authoritarian regimes and at the same time misuse of this channel can also make a negative impact on society. The role of political parties is very important in this regard. They are the real guardian of this segment of society. Creating rifts in mainstream media houses or extending support to only like-minded journalists creates an imbalance leading to more anarchy. All political parties need to be vigilant about press freedom and not cross the limit of turning media into a tool for manipulating opinions against rivals.

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