Drawing the line.
Press freedom is a rather relative term when applied in the context of the media scenario currently prevailing in Pakistan. Over the past sixty years, the country's media has traversed an entire spectrum of circumstances, ranging from complete muzzling of its free voice to a period that commenced around 2000, when almost all restrictions were removed and the media functioned almost untamed. While questions have been raised in recent years about what this freedom entails and what are its limits, certain events have demonstrated that as far as the base of power is concerned, it is a selective sort of freedom, a thin line that, if not paid heed to with judiciousness, can lead to horrible consequences.
The situation is quite incongruous, however. In the 2010 World Press Freedom Index released by Reporters Without Borders, Pakistan ranked at a lowly 151 and the prime reason for this was attributed to anti-media activities of the various terrorist groups that operate in the country. If the conditions of press freedom in Pakistan were to be judged on the basis of this piece of ranking, the country would emerge as one where press freedom is severely restricted and that the regimes in power, whether autocratic or democratic, pursue highly repressive policies against the media.
This is far from fact as an impartial assessment of the prevailing complexion and content of Pakistani print and electronic media would clearly show it has enjoyed unprecedented freedom over a decade now and in an atmosphere that can hardly be described as restrictive. It is not quite comprehensible, therefore, that organizations like Reporters Without Borders and others, do not bring this fact into the reckoning when compiling their rankings. It is also not fair that Pakistani media which had earlier functioned under such black laws as the PPO, do not appreciate or value the freedom they currently enjoy and tend to promote the impression to the outside world that the country's press is in chains, submerged in a sea of governmental repression.
It is true that while the fourth pillar of state must learn to exercise its no-holds-barred freedom with responsibility and in an atmosphere of accountability, the other three pillars must also understand what is involved in allowing the media to express opinion freely and to report what is fit to be reported. It appears as if both sides still have a long way to go in fully comprehending what press freedom actually entails and where the Rubicon lies.