Whither Press Freedom – Guest post by Qudrat Ullah


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By Qudrat Ullah

With the advancement of information and communication technologies, the mass media has emerged as one of the most important organ of our everyday life, affecting the people in their daily lives and keeping them informed of the happenings around them. Keeping in view of its unique significance as an important component of the society, media has been rightly acknowledged as the “fourth pillar of the State”; while it also affects other pillars of the State, in one way or the other.

Media’s power of information-diffusion has given it an added advantage and authority over other components and institutions of the State. Due to this, dependence of human beings on media has increased manifold, as more and more people, organizations and even the governments, rely on news-material, provided by various organs of the mass media, for information and decision-making.

The media, therefore, has a responsibility to be the eyes, ears, and voice of the people. Its role especially increases in democratic societies and there is no doubt that media is the most important core component of democracy. It promotes and protects rights of the people and keeps an eye on the working of the government institutions.

The growth of electronic media in Pakistan has given an added significance to the mass media, and now both print and electronic media, have started more and more influencing our lives while the national media also played vital role in the removal of dictatorship and success of lawyers’ movement. Keeping in view media’s growing role and importance, it can be said that no human society would survive or flourish without a vibrant and independent media.

Not only the existence of media is important, but the encouraging atmosphere for journalists and the mass media is equally important. In fact, it is the most essential foundation of media industry on which whole edifice is erected and if media fails to ensure its freedom, then its future cannot be bright.

Press freedom helps build a credible image in the eyes of the readers and, while keeping a check on the government and other organs of the society, it exposes crime and corruption without any fear and compromise. Likewise, freedom of expression is the cornerstone of any democratic society. It is a basic human right, to be enjoyed by all people, regardless of cultural, religious, ethnic or other backgrounds. The freedom of press and the freedom of expression are regarded as the very basis of a democratic form of government. There is no doubt that denial of freedom to the press, to explore and enquire stagnates a society.

The Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan fully guarantees the freedom of press and freedom of expression to its all citizens. Article 19 of the Constitution states!

Every citizen shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression, and there shall be freedom of the press, subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interest of the glory of Islam or the integrity, security or defence of Pakistan or any part thereof, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, 1[commission of] or incitement to an offence.”

It may be noted that Section 4 of the Constitution (Fourth Amendment) Act, 1975 (71 of 1975) substituted the said words in place of the word “defamation”, in Article 19, (w.e.f. November 21, 1975). The concept of press freedom was also covered in past constitutions in the following Articles.

Constitution of Pakistan, 1962 :

6 (III.9)

Constitution of Pakistan, 1956 :

8

Government of India Act, 1935:

nil

The concept of freedom of speech is often covered by the same laws as freedom of the press, thereby, giving equal treatment to spoken and published expressions.

Press freedom is a tricky issue in Pakistan as every government, whether democratic or civilian claims that media is totally free, independent and vibrant and there is no pressure on any component of the media from any corner of the government. However, media- men have their own reservations about it.

Media freedom should be our total commitment; as it helps to promote a responsible and democratic society and keeps a check on the government. And those societies where there is no justice and free media do not sustain for longer. Only free press could identify system flaws in any democratic country and our media stood side by side with the political workers during the dark days of dictatorship. What’s more important is that no nation can progress without involving half of its population in nation-building activities and progress of society depends on the empowerment of women. What we all need is to develop an affirmative environment for the emancipation of women in the media industry.

It’s a good phenomenon that the telecommunication and Internet industry has seen tremendous growth over the last few years. The emergence of satellite broadcasting in the early 1990s and the subsequent proliferation of cable television have led to the beginning of shift away from monopoly of state controlled media. This allows for greater choice, and access to a wider range of information and alternative viewpoints.

South Asia is a conflict ridden zone where divergence is an agreeing phenomenon. In this situation, media’s role increases manifold. However, what’s more important is that media should remain totally impartial, neutral and adopt dispassionate approach for solving all issues. By doing so, it can earn worldwide standing and credible repute.

Media has emerged in Pakistan as an effective power to reckon with. This is indeed a healthy symbol. TV channels in particular, are doing a yeoman service by keeping the public informed with their lively talk-shows.

The country is passing through a critical juncture. These are extraordinary times. The challenges being faced today, like terrorism, are daunting but certainly not insurmountable. What we really need is unity and sincerity of purpose, to rise to the occasion.

And media can help achieve that vital goal.

(qudratulla@gmail.com)