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Democracy killing democracy.

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When PTV blacked out those portions of its transmission that contained proceedings in the National Assembly of Pakistan pertaining to Imran Khan's speech on the role of some members of the Nawaz Sharif family in the Panama Leaks scandal, the intentions of the democratic regime became quite clear. The whole thing came across as an obvious case of democracy killing democracy. Like the policies of many a 'democratic' regime in the past, it was clear that only the views of the sitting prime minister would be broadcast to the nation and that any other voice, especially if it was dissenting or critical, would not be heard. Among the TV networks, since only the official PTV is authorized to cover proceedings of the National Assembly and then pass on the feed to the other networks, privately-owned TV channels had no means of getting their hands on the coverage.

It also transpired that the minister of information and broadcasting Pervez Rashid and the Speaker of the National Assembly Ayaz Sadiq did not see eye to eye on the issue and held diametrically opposite views on the subject. While the minister said that his decision regarding PTV coverage of the National Assembly proceedings was governed by the NA Speaker, the Speaker said that he gave no such instructions. It was interesting to note that both the minister and the speaker belong to the same political party - the PML(N).

In fact, Ayaz Sadiq said that he had nothing to do with the live coverage of the National Assembly on Pakistan Television and that the state-owned network was permitted to broadcast the session live. Consequently, there was wide criticism that PTV had selectively broadcast the government's version and had suppressed the opposition point of view in its coverage of the National Assembly which was debating the Panama Leaks issue. The National Assembly speaker Ayaz Sadiq went so far as to say that PTV did not report to him and that it was the Ministry of Information that instructed PTV to broadcast National Assembly sessions.

It is instructive to note here that though a democratic regime is in charge in Pakistan, it is still treating PTV at its own beck and call and using it as a tool to suppress any dissenting voices that may emanate from platforms where it can wield control. The government in power today has always flaunted itself as a champion of democracy and democratic traditions. As such, it must be well aware that freedom of expression is a basic pillar of democracy and must be protected at all costs, especially by a regime such as the PML(N)'s. The PPP government that preceded the PML(N) government also understood this well and, despite many challenging occasions, it never suppressed free expression and never dealt with the media with the kind of heavy hand that the current regime is exercising.

It is even more interesting that all this freedom that the media enjoys today and which it exploits to the hilt whenever it gets the opportunity, was provided by the former President and army general Pervez Musharraf. It is a pity then that instead of making the free media more powerful, the democratic regime of the PML(N) has chosen to suppress free voices and to fall back to the old devices of successive governments that came before the Musharraf regime. Those governments could not ever think of liberating the media. For them, the media had always to be state-owned and to be used for the furtherance of government objectives. Both for civilian governments and military regimes in Pakistan, freedom of the media was never on the cards and they perhaps never visualized the possibility of radio and television being anything but state-owned and state-directed.

Even in the days of NTM or the earlier days of FM - media that was not as strictly state-controlled as PTV or Radio Pakistan, these channels never had the government's permission to run news and current affairs programmes. The print media too was equally suppressed in those days and though owned by private parties, was never allowed the kind of criticism of the government or the rulers as what appears today.

Perhaps there were those who mistakenly expected the PML(N) government to further the dictates of democracy in a more vigorous manner when it came to power. Pitifully, just the opposite of that possibility is occurring today. It appears that instead of removing the very shards of authoritarianism, the present government is proceeding to further solidify its tyrannical approach by exploiting state-controlled media such as PTV for its own ends. There are no moves to privatize and liberate PTV - but to strengthen it as a state-organ.
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Geographic Code:9PAKI
Date:Apr 30, 2016
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