Daily Times Editorial 8 July 2020
State of media
This particular government has made no secret of its dislike of free media right from day one, even though it could not have achieved the electoral success that it did without it. Yet ever since winning the election it has done all it could to undermine all forms of media. It even tried to arm-twist giant international social media companies like Facebook and Twitter to install servers inside Pakistan and censor all news that the state didn’t like, and only backed down when said companies threatened to pull out altogether, leaving Pakistan isolated in the world of connected social media. And even before the market tanked both print and electronic media outlets were suffering because of the government’s policies related to advertisements and non-payment of arrears, which led to thousands of job losses across the country.
Now, the Lahore High Court (LHC) has stayed what was yet another attempt by the state to stifle free speech as Pemra pulled Channel 24 off air allegedly because of certain legal discrepancies; but a brief from the channel itself indicated that it was being shut down in light of all the “blackmailing” and harassment it was facing from the government. Surely this trend needs to be checked because the present government has, for all intents and purposes, literally launched an unannounced war on media. Strangely, despite benefitting from record media patronage for two decades, after becoming prime minister, Imran Khan has adopted the position that people should neither read newspapers nor watch prime time news programs. Clearly all this is because previously most commentators used to criticise the previous government’s mistakes and now they tend to talk about the PTI dispensation’s incompetence and failures, and the government does not like what it sees now that the shoe is on the other foot.
Tempest in a temple
A video doing the rounds of a Pakistani boy, hardly more than four years old, addressing Prime Minister Imran Khan and threatening to hunt down and kill all Hindus one by one if a temple is constructed in Islamabad has, quite understandably, caused a lot of concern. Now more and more people are taking to social media, something the government doesn’t like at all, and explaining why they opposed large scale brainwashing of the people for so long. And so we have an intolerant, xenophobic society where a large number of people think it is fine to indoctrinate little children into hating minorities as well. What is most baffling about incidents like this is that people go so far in hating people from other religions because, apparently, of some sort of extraordinary allegiance to their own religion, even though Islam is perhaps the most tolerant of all faiths and has no problem whatsoever with minorities giving due reverence to their respective scriptures.
Yet here we stand, and it is now for the state to figure out how to proceed. Allowing minorities freedom of religion would make the country stand out for all the right reasons, especially in contrast with the inward, anti-minority policies of the Indian government. Now, just because of this video and the fact that it represents a rather largely shared opinion, a lot of social media users in India are busy making Pakistan the butt of all jokes and justifying their controversial CAA (Citizens Amendment Act). Surely this particular angle will be made to resonate a lot louder before it dies down, which is not going to be anytime soon.
It is, therefore, very important right now to highlight how what this video portrays is only one side of the picture and there are a lot more people in Pakistan that are a lot more tolerant of people of all faiths, cultures, casts, etc, just as the constitution of the Republic and the essence of the Islamic scripture requires. The cyber world can be a little harsh sometimes because it tends to spread elements of controversy much faster than normal, sober items. So it is little surprise that this little video has gone viral quite like it has, and all the efforts of the government to not just accommodate but facilitate religious minorities have been thrown into the background and already pretty much forgotten. Perhaps, for a pleasant change, somebody should take to the web to appreciate what good is being done as well. *