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Pakistan: Ban on media

Tuesday 28 November 2017, by siawi3


Deplorable media blackout


Updated November 27, 2017

THE disturbing and chaotic events of Saturday have shattered the PML-N government’s credibility. As vigilante mobs took to the streets across the country and threatened the life and property of law-abiding citizens, the federal government dissolved into a mass of confusion, contradiction and incompetence.

Instead of calming a nervous and fearful public, the government itself appears to have panicked and made several critical errors. Two of those mistakes, however, stand out for their egregiousness and unacceptability.

A sudden, blanket ban on TV news channels and attempts to shut down the public’s access to social media platforms and news websites were a shocking overreach of executive power by a government that appeared to be in a blind panic.

Then, as if to confirm the disarray and panic in the upper echelons of the PML-N government, an error-laden notification was issued to try and draft the military in to quell the protests.

A civil-military huddle on Sunday afternoon may have helped restore calm nationally, but the Faizabad protest continues and the shocking mistakes of Saturday cannot be glossed over.

A media ban – in this case, sudden, across-the-board and effectively plunging the country into a news blackout — is simply intolerable.

Some of the media coverage of the abortive Faizabad operation may have been problematic, but the government and the regulator had every opportunity before and during the police operation to reach out to media houses and counsel fair and legitimate restraint.

The PML-N has unmatched governmental experience and the party has shown a keen interest in harnessing the power of social media to project the party and its governments’ achievements. Ignorance is not a possibility here.

There is no excuse or justification, none whatsoever, to silence the media to try and cover up the government’s mistakes.

An even more sinister aspect of the sudden ban is that the steps taken appear to have been contemplated in advance. While the execution of the ban was mercifully uneven, a blueprint appears to have been generated allowing for similar or more draconian measures in future.

Does the state now view the media as an enemy that has to be contained or defeated? If so, the dangers are more acute than either the public or the media itself may have been aware of.

The other mistake, for which the military leadership must also shoulder some of the blame, was for the civilian government and the military leadership to trade public messages about the best response of the state to the protesters and their demands.

Revealing further incompetence, the first government notification requesting the military’s assistance was riddled with errors. Some semblance of stability appears to have returned after the prime minister-COAS meeting yesterday, but lessons must be learned quickly. The danger has not passed.