Freedom of Media in Pakistan Blessing or Bane?

Freedom of Media in Pakistan Blessing or Bane

Free media is a double-edged sword which has its benefits and vices; however, its advantages overweight the disadvantages.

1.    Introduction
2.    Definition of free media
3.    Media in Pakistan: From censorship to freedom
4.    Role of media in Pakistan: a blessing and curse at the same time

a)     Free media as a blessing:
i. educates and informs masses
ii. increases level of awareness
iii. develops public opinion
iv. supports democracy

b)      Free media as a bane:
i. spreading misinformation: rumours and false news
ii. used for propaganda & sensationalism:
benefits antagonists groups
iii. exploitation of freedom: corruption and influence
iv. commercialisation: serves vested interests
5.    Enrichment and invasion of culture; simultaneously
6.    Media is a medium for socialisation and social isolation; concurrently
7.    Media is a watchdog but lacking accountability within; contrarily.
8.    Overall role in national development.
9.    Conclusion

Free media is a double-edged sword which has its benefits and vices; however, its advantages overweigh the disadvantages. It ensures the right to freedom of speech. Media is said to be free when the media organisations enjoy freedom to disseminate information without facing any barriers from the government or any other powerful actors of the society. Earlier in Pakistan, media had to go through severe censorship and rigid regulations. However, the laws were enacted in the last decade to lift curbs on its freedom. This resulted in unprecedented freedom of expression and provision of information. Free media comes with a package of advantages such as educating people, increasing the level of awareness, developing the public opinion and, most importantly, supporting the democratic system. However, it carries a bundle of disadvantages as well including disseminating disinformation, advocating a specific propaganda and prioritizing commercialism. It helps enrich one’s culture as well as risks invasion by others’ cultures. It facilitates socialisation by making the world a global village yet it isolates individuals from their families and friends as excessive time is being wasted on social media. Interestingly, media is a watchdog over the governments, but lacks accountability within. Nevertheless, the overall role of the free media in national development cannot be undermined.

Media is free when it can provide information without any kind of censorship. However, complete freedom does require freedom of right to seek, receive and impart information and ideas. Constitution of Pakistan and the universally-accepted principles guarantee everyone the right to freedom of opinion and expression.

In Pakistan, media has long faced the censorship. However, an appreciable level of freedom has been achieved recently. Pakistani media is hugely influenced by various state and non-state actors. Military regimes in Pakistan had a special interest in controlling the media. The first step in this direction was taken by a military ruler who promulgated the Press and Publication Ordinance (PPO) in 1960. The law empowered the authorities to confiscate newspapers, clamp down on newspaper providers, and arrest journalists. Even civil governments were no less eager to influence and control media. It was not until 2002 that media faced a decisive development when new laws broke the state’s monopoly on electronic media. TV broadcasting and FM radio licenses were issued to private media outlets. These new laws opened up a new arena for free media with less regulations and limited censorship.

Owing to its advantages, the free media brings, can be rightly termed as a blessing. Firstly; it educates and informs masses. It easily disseminates important information across the globe. Access to uncensored information helps educate the masses regarding important societal issues. In Pakistan, media, especially TV channels, have effectively used freedom of expression to educate people on essential elements of society and citizenship. Programmes broadcast on these channels educate people on social, cultural and political issues and create civic sense and responsibility among the masses. TV plays films and documentaries are good examples in this context.

Secondly; free media stirs a rise in awareness level. This raised level improves ability to make decisions rationally. Compare Pakistan’s current generation with their predecessors and you see that when media faced huge censorship and was not ‘free’, people knew a little about the societal issues. Previous generations lived with low awareness owing to inaccessibility to information and, hence, vulnerable to manipulation. The current state of affairs harbingers a bright future as the masses have great knowledge about the issues faced by the country. The role of media in restoration and independence of judiciary needs not be overemphasised.

Thirdly; free media shapes public opinion. Internet, TV and radio channels, and newspapers are effective tools to serve the national interests if geared in the right direction. After Mumbai attacks, Pakistani media broadcast and printed reports and documentaries on the country’s defence and military strength in a bid to boost the peoples’ morale against anticipated Indian threat of attack on Pakistan. Numerous articles were published to prove that Pakistan had nothing to do with the Mumbai attacks. This helped appease the international concerns. Peoples of Pakistan and India regard Kashmir as an integral part of their respective countries. Media can play its role to soften the stance to reach an agreeable solution.

Last but not least; media promotes and strengthens and champions democracy. Precisely, democracy is the best system in which both people and media get freedom of speech. Media helps democracy thrive by arousing the citizens’ interest in country’s politics. Recent developments show a gradual but promising shift in Pakistan’s political system towards true democracy. Where media played an important role in the ouster of the military ruler Pervez Musharraf, it also highlighted flaws and lacunae in governance during previous democratic regime. This caused the annihilation of ‘coalition partners’ of that regime in May 2013 elections.

Elsewhere, the United States and India are good examples where media due to its freedom has played and is playing significant role in strengthening the democratic norms.

The unprecedented freedom of media has, as well, harmed the society. First of all; there are some instances where media outlets spread disinformation and created confusion among the masses. The ‘informing people’ function of media is not complete until it guarantees true and unbiased information. Absence of a consolidated accountability system has let certain elements in media to exploit feelings of the audiences just to get some ‘rating’. Nevertheless, this disinformation damages significant elements of society. For example, some segments in Pakistani media often resorted to create false impression about the government, even they started predicting its departure. These rumours forced the investors keep at bay which harmed the country’s economy.

Second; freedom without responsibility leads to creation of sensationalism. Media is a powerful opinion-maker and if not dealt carefully, it could be negatively used to form opinions which favour certain organizations or groups. Pakistan is combating the monster of terrorism but the uncensored and live telecast of the scenes of bomb blasts and of the bleeding people has caused severe psychological impacts on the people of Pakistan. Most areas of Pakistan are, undoubtedly, peaceful but these repeated telecasts create a negative perception of the country which causes decline in foreign investment and damages the tourism industry.
This has inadvertently helped the cause of the terrorists.

Third; the absolute freedom, like absolute power, leads to corruption. Unbridled freedom of expression has led media organisations to interfere in state matters. In countries where legal system is weak but media is free, media often gets involved in corrupt practices. Lack of strict vigilance and regulation allows journalists to negatively use the media power to extort rather than inform.

Last but not least; huge profits in the media sector have given rise to commercialisation. Media outlets nowadays work only for more and more profits. Influence of wealthy entrepreneurs has made media drift away from its real objective of informing, educating and supporting public. Regardless of what is good for masses, media covers content and issues which increases their ratings — a tool to grab huge profits. Certain issues are self-censored only because they would damage the profits of media outlets. Newspapers, for example, often censor or skip reports relating to wrongdoings of the government institutions as doing so may result in cuts on their public advertisements.

Today, when the world has become a global village, free media enriches and spreads a nation’s culture around the world, yet, simultaneously, the channels also allow invasion of other cultures. For instance, today’s free Pakistani media is able to reach out Pakistani diaspora across the globe. This has helped introduce and spread Pakistani culture in the world. Nevertheless, it has influenced natives’ culture with the foreign ones. Television programmes these days are replete with Indian and Turkish plays, soaps and shows. Western influence, though to some extent, is also obvious. Resultantly, our new generation is hugely influenced by Justin Bieber, Amir Khan and other celebrities but not our native heroes like Aziz Bhatti Shaheed, Rashid Minhas Shaheed, and other valiant sons of the soil.

Expansion of media is also responsible for providing the people with up-to-date communication facilities. Internet has revolutionized the way people socialise and interact. Friends, relatives and even unknown people are able to interact irrespective of territorial distances. Facebook, Skype and other social media help people socialise in modern ways. However, the very same media have become a cause of social isolation as well. This has created generation gaps as well, as social-media-obsessed youngsters stay at a distance from their elders.

Moreover; free media is a watchdog over the government and state institutions. Media keeps a vigilant eye on their doings and wrongdoings. Every good is praised, and every wrong is criticised. Never in Pakistan was corruption exposed to such an extent. After the enactment of liberal laws, new corruption scandals are exposed every day. But this freedom has also exposed the state to new dangers. There is no proper framework for accountability in the media sector itself. Hardly has any government taken an action against a corrupt journalist or a media organisation. Nor has media its own strict accountability mechanism. This indicates the vulnerability of free media to become a carefree giant, if not properly regulated.

Nonetheless; despite all the negativity, the unparalleled contribution of free media in the progress of this nation cannot be denied. Free media has improved the consciousness among the masses. People never questioned actions of the government the way they do now. This is just the result of timely, useful and mostly objective dissemination of information. Pakistan’s judiciary has achieved its freedom due to the evermore vibrant role of media. Eventually, free media has given an opportunity to the people of Pakistan to contribute to the welfare of the state.

As nothing is perfect in this world; free media also carries some vices along with its benefits which, however, overshadow the vices. Free media helps keep people informed and educated with regard to important issues of the country and world. Though, it could fall short of its responsibilities and serve vested interests sometimes, its role in being watchful of important state actions is commendable. Certain anomalies in media can be corrected by encouraging initiatives of creating a strong internal accountability and regulatory mechanism with governmental oversight. What needs to be above the board is that freedom of media shall be ensured as free media always brings greater benefits for the progress and prosperity of nation than the inadvertent damages it causes. Hence, it is more of a blessing than a bane.

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