It is never a good sign for freedom of speech when those meant to uphold and defend it consciously campaign in favour of arbitrary censorship for the sake of business interests and petty enmity. Media houses have only themselves to blame for the position they now find themselves in; vulnerable in the face of a charging regulatory authority which is neither transparent nor incorruptible as evident from its track record. Of course, they knew. But, they were willing to live under the shadow of the axe, just to see someone else’s head roll, even if it meant losing their own sooner or later. Electronic media has taught them a lesson which they can’t seem to forget. Good business doesn’t necessarily require good journalism. Freedom of speech, independence, credibility – all this can be compromised and the empire will still stand. Even grow. From here, the sight of private media houses destroying journalism and risking hard-earned freedoms for ratings and market-share doesn’t really surprise at all. On the contrary, it makes perfect sense. Their heart doesn’t lie in journalism, but in the profits it generates for them. When the editorial policy is being dictated by the demands of business, you get Pakistan’s hyper, unprofessional electronic media.
So, what to do then? Should we just accept our fate and let PEMRA ban one channel after the other under the pretext of ‘regulation’? So what if ARY has been banned for 15 and Geo Entertainment for 30 days? They can easily afford it. And they’ll come back soon anyway. If only it was that simple. All those who take their profession seriously and value rights and liberties should be offended by what is happening. They will be forced to work in an environment where anything they say or write could easily be censored by an authority which is in no state to exercise the amount of power entrusted to it. There is no way the media will be able to perform its role as an effective watchdog if it is muzzled so easily every time it takes on a powerful entity. Taking a news channel off air is no joke in the civilised world, but it has become one in Pakistan owing to media’s very own brand of suicide bombers. If professionals, seasoned and new, do not wish for the reign of holy cows and state censorship to return, they must rise to the challenge and confront the black sheep within. Editorial control must return to where it belongs; in the hands of journalists, not business strategists or owners. Those who continue to hold high positions while their powers are routinely usurped by owners are doing a disservice to their profession and themselves. The media must confront the approaching onslaught, but it will have to regain the lost moral high ground to successfully fight it off.