Democracy and free media are co-related; democracy is impossible without a free and responsible media while the concept of a free media is impossible without democracy. Democracy and free media reinforce each other. Huge credit goes to Pakistan Peoples Party, which is the biggest voice of free media and has contributed much in this regard.
We live in a world where the free flow of information and ideas is a powerful force for progress. Independent print, broadcast, and online media outlets are more than sources of news and opinion. They also expose abuses of power, fight corruption, challenge assumptions, and provide constructive outlets for new ideas and dissent.
Quaid e Awam Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the leader of the third world, for the first time in Pakistan’s history succeeded in achieving broad based national consensus for the 1973 constitution. It was the biggest achievement and development in Pakistan’s unconstitutional history, through this for the first time fundamental human rights incorporated in constitution. Through Article 19th of the constitution, freedom of expression was guaranteed and legal cover was provided for public speeches and independent publication. These great measure injected new life into neglected print media industry.
Freedom of the press is protected by the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and is a hallmark of every free society. Wherever media freedom is in jeopardy, all other human rights are also under threat. A free media is essential to democracy and it fosters transparency and accountability, both of which are prerequisites for sustained economic development.
Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s regime is considered a unique era of democracy, human rights and free press. Before and after that era, during military dictatorships of 60’s and 80’s especially, the state of independent print media were very bleak, where undemocratic governments were the biggest stakeholders in the media development and that’s why nobody escaped the institutionalized assault on media. Independent voices were victims of state torture and solitary confinement without any cogent reason. Voices of independent liberal journalists were muffled. During that dark periods, there are lots of untold stories state despotism to snub liberal democratic voices. Newspapers who followed an independent lines were often coerced to submission by blocking advertisements and using other pressure tactics.
During General Zia ul Haq’s oppressive dictatorship journalistic neutrality and independent views were tamed in torture cells. State coercion was at its peak and manhandling of media persons and confiscation of printing press was a routine matter. General Musharraf pretended to be champion of free press and freedom of expression but acts of Nov 3, 2007 suspending transmission of private channels speak volumes of his true face. It was the most brutal example of how undemocratic rules dictating to the media.
Shaheed e jamhooriat Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto’s visionary leadership recognized and encouraged the value of free media, in contributing towards the development of a well informed society, her first Government(1988-90)press laws aimed at censorship lifted, Journalists terminated from service during Martial Law regime were reinstated. No objection certificate for journalists to travel abroad was abolished. Employees of Radio and Television were reinstated. During her 2nd government (1993-96) huge development were made in communication and media sector, laying of the optic fiber along with right bank of Indus; introduced cellular telephones, digital pager, satellite dish and FM Radio; provided complete press freedom; announced sixth Wage Board award for the newspaper workers. The award was also implemented in the APP.
The unprecedented proliferation of new media outlets could be attributed to the media liberalization policy of Shaheed benazir Bhutto, due to this policy, besides privately owned vibrant media, number of new FM radio stations, cable television networks, satellite televisions and interactive websites plus blogs on internet are catering to the citizen’s information needs. Shaheed Benazir Bhutto’s 2nd government had taken many bold steps to liberalize country’s airwaves, until 1995 the country had only state controlled media in the form of PTV and Radio Pakistan when the first licenses were awarded to a Peoples Television Network, later named as Shalimar Television Network (STN) and it nurtured Network Television Network (NTM) and three FM radio stations in Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi. With the advancement in information and communication technologies era of dish antennas brought various television channels directly to Pakistani household.
It is quite evident that the present PPP government also realizes the significance of free press and freedom of information for transparency and open government and, therefore made a number of moves to introduce and enact new and better laws that would replace the existing freedom of information ordinance 2002.While addressing the joint session of the parliament soon after becoming the president of Pakistan, Mr Asif Ali Zardari stated: “we will soon be bringing other fundamental laws, such the freedom of Information Bill and work with stakeholders toward an open atmosphere of self regulation with no interference from the state”
The PPP present government abolished the emergency PEMRA Law 2007 and Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani is on record of having disallowed the recommendations of the Parliamentary Committee regarding retention of some provisions of the 2007 PEMRA Ordinance.
In his first speech in the National Assembly as the newly elected Prime Minister, Mr Yousaf Raza Gillani had stated: “A new freedom of information law would be promote press freedom while the PEMRA would be made a subsidiary of the Information Ministry and it’s law changed.
Historic 18th Amendment (April 2010) by inserting a new Article 19-A in the Constitution has acknowledged the Citizens Right to Information.
The Article 19A about the Right to information says: “Every citizen shall have the right to have access to information in all matters of public importance subject to regulation and reasonable restrictions imposed by law”.
After inclusion of this article Pakistan has joined the club of 50 plus countries whose constitution guarantee right to information.
Information and Broadcasting Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira informed the National Assembly that Right to Information Bill-2011 would hopefully be finalized in February.
Speaking on floor of the House, the minister said that Freedom of Information bill was now called as the Right to Information after the passage of 18th amendment. “Our government is in contact with all provincial governments for taking their point of view on the bill,” he said.
The media in the country is the freest ever in its history as even the head of state is subjected to rigorous criticism and literal ridicule by the national media which does not happen even in the most advanced democracies of the world. “Unfortunately, some vested interest are taking undue advantage of the media freedom and trying to mislead the people by confounding facts with fiction,” The detractors of the government should take a breather and look at the performance of the government objectively and come up with suggestive criticism, which is always welcomed by the people’s government. The government’s resolve to work for consultative, re-conciliatory and futuristic vision of democracy in the country.
A very positive development; Kinnaird College(KC ) on Monday held the inauguration ceremony of regular transmission of Radio Kinnaird FM 97.6 at the Haldia Hall on Monday. Fauzia Wahab, information secretary of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), was the chief guest on the occasion.
Ms. Fauzia formally inaugurated a radio station and also recorded a message for Kinnaird College (KC) Lahore, live from the studio of Radio Kinnaird FM 97.6. KC Principal Dr Rukhsana David, former principal Dr Mira Phailbus and Media Studies Department’s head, Shazia Saeed, were also present on the occasion along with Shabina Riaz Sheikh and Haider Zaman Qureshi.
While addressing the students, Ms. Fauzia congratulated Shazia Saeed and the radio team for this endeavor. In her address, she added that KC had been a source of learning and empowerment for women. The college has produced many students who had excelled in their professional lives, like Asma Jahangir, Bapsi Sidhwa, Attiya Inayatullah and Moneeza Hashmi, to name a few. Talking about the media, she added that Radio Kinnaird would give its listeners the light of knowledge, wisdom, harmony and order. She also added that Radio Kinnaird would produce future anchors, editors and media analysts. She said that the youth could play a pivotal role in ensuring the bright future of the country.
On the matter of Blasphemy Law, Ms. Fauzia said that nobody is ready to listen to the logical facts regarding blasphemy law. She said that media is dominated by ‘journalists having right wing ideals’, who are ‘responsible of increasing extremism in the country’. She said that journalists with these extremist ideas are not ready to accept any argument based on logic on the blasphemy law.
She also said that government wishes to enhance the education budget as it is subjected to more tax revenues collected from the people. She added that the dream of an increased budget for education could not be realized unless people fulfill their responsibility and pay more taxes.
Talking about the media, she said that Radio Kinnaird will give us the light of knowledge, wisdom and spread the message of harmony and peace. She also said that the media will produce future anchors, editors and media analysts. She said that the youth could play a pivotal role in ensuring bright future of the country.
Shazia Saeed said the KC believed in imparting professional knowledge and skills to its students and Radio Kinnaird would provide them an opportunity to learn. She said the Kinnaird had achieved the milestone of establishing a Campus Radio in 98 years history and launching of regular transmission on Monday.
She thanked all those who contributed towards the successful launch of a new campus radio in the market.
We at LUBP believe it is a very positive initiative as future anchors, programming artists, producers and broadcasters will be groomed from the grass roots and academic life and potentially we will not have Meher Bokhari type of screeching anchors and characters.
We also appreciate the role and steps taken by the PPP, KC management as well as PEMRA which has allowed them to go on air.
It is also high time that corporate media also regulate itself by working on common “code of conduct” for itself. Otherwise independent observer, analyst and even citizens will consider it, free but irresponsible anti-democratic and anti-people media.