A Look At Media Freedom In Pakistan

The media freedom in Pakistan may actually come as a surprise to anyone expecting to see what one often expects in a conservative Islamic dictatorship. Difficult as it may be for its people to accept, one can relate it to the historical South Asian traditions of freedom as also the impact of what is happening across its Eastern borders. With expanding social media, one can expect media freedom to improve further in future.
A Look at Media Freedom in Pakistan
Source - Wikimedia Commons (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3APakistan_Today_News.jpeg)

Strange Contrast of Dictatorship with Free Media

Given the fact that Pakistan has virtually been ruled by one dictator or another during half the time since its creation, the media freedom available in the country is amazing. Most Asian countries, including China, most of South-East Asia and Middle East come nowhere even near it in terms of its independence in most domains. However, there are certain lines that the media will still dare not cross in Pakistan.

Media freedom in Pakistan cannot be understood without understanding the psyche of its people and culture. People in South Asia are generally far more expressive,

vocal and argumentative compared to the rest of Asia, and many other parts of the world. They are also more politically aware, even in Pakistan where democracy has had its own lows. Another factor has been the India-effect, where media has always been virtually a force in itself, and influences public opinion more than anything else.

The Overwhelming Dominance of PTv

Pakistan TV is the official TV channel network, and has been the first modern TV broadcasting unit, having a satellite linked network since 1970s. Till sometime back, it used to be the only TV option available. Today, there is a plethora of channels to choose from, beginning with ARY digital network, Airwaves media channels, IRA news channels, Express network, Eye TV network, Geo TV network and Indus network apart from a plethora of other channles including AAJ TV, ATV, Business Plus, Fimasia, Filmax, Dawn news and a score of other channels, some of them purely dedicated to entertainment while some dedicated only to Islam.

Equally large is the list of newspapers in Pakistan in different languages. Most important ones are in English like Dawn, Daily Times, The Nation, The News International, National Herald Tribune and Pkistan Observer. Then there are many in Urdu, the main language, like Aaj, Ausaf, Express, Jang, Khabrein, Pakistan and Nawa-e-Waqt. There are also many in other languages especially Sindhi like Awami Awaz, Ibrat and Kawish.

The number of TV channels and newspapers may not be reflective of the media freedom in itself, but it does denote the fact that news is an important commodity in Pakistan, and that happens only when people believe that it is coming unhindered. This, in many ways, is a new phenomenon, especially

as far as TV is concerned. Gone are the days when every news was censored, filtered, modified and then released. Today, the news is much less controlled, and the channels often critical about the establishment.

Expanding Social Media makes Media Restrictions Redundant

Another major development related to media freedom and control is the rapid expansion of social media, resulting from the revolutionary developments in the area of information technology and internet in the last few years. These changes and the rising popularity of social media has made media regulation and control largely redundant and meaningless, since even if a regime is able to control media, it cannot control social media and millions participating in it. In many ways, this is one of the game changers in the area of media freedom. The authorities may still want to control media now, but to many, the futility of this exercise is already apparent.

Problems & Challenges in Media Freedom

This, however, does not mean that everything is fine with media independence. In Pakistan, an unwritten law of certain forces still prevails. Religious leaders, defence establishments, ISI and terrorists are still beyond the scope of ordinary journalist, and while media can indulge in criticism of politicians, and sometimes even bureaucrats, it dare not cast a light on these forces. Some journalists have occasionally dared to challenge their writ, but such attempts have been feeble and rare. Some journalists have also paid the price for such daredevilry. In recent times, attacks by religious extremists and terrorists, though still sporadic, have occasionally seen a spurt.

Though media freedom in Pakistan is still far from the level of independence that their counterparts enjoy in United States or Europe, it is still better than many Asian countries outside South Asia, far more than most Islamic countries and definitely more than one could expect in a country that has been backward, shifting towards Islam, entangled with terrorism and ruled by dictators for most part of its existence. Media freedom is the brightest silver lining in Pakistan's political future.

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