Press in Chains: History of media gagging in Pakistan

The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) government on Thursday reverted back to Musharraf’s antics after it suspended the Geo Televisions transmissions across the country. This was the first attempt on the freedom of the press since February 18, 2007 general elections paved way for a democratically elected government in the country. This attempt on the part of our crafty custodians of thinking, morality and virtue belies their tall claims of democracy, independent judiciary and free media.

Censorship in Pakistan has a long history and its first victim being the founder of the nation Mohammad Ali Jinnah. On 11 August 1947 when he delivered his first speech “You are free, you are free to go to your temples…..” before the Constituent Assembly; within hours some shadowy figures became active and “tried to have some secularist passages of the speech blacked out in the press” (Press In Chains P. 35-39) But luckily the then editor Dawn Altaf Hussain came in their way and threatened to go to Quaid. So the attempt to muzzle Qauid’s voice failed.

The second major attack was the closure of illustrious Civil & Military Gazette(C&MG) in 1949 after it carried a story by its Delhi correspondent that Pakistan and India are devising a formula to partition Kashmir. Pakistan denied the report so the paper published the denial, regretted the report and fired the correspondent. But on 6th May 1949, 16 West Pakistan newspapers carried a joint editorial by the title of “TREASON” and asked government to suspend the (C&MG) publication “for a suitable period.” The East Pakistani editors “refused to join the chorus” and the government closed the paper for a period of six month and the paper where once writers like Rudyard Kipling (1882-1887) had worked never recovered from the closure.

Ayub Khan within the first week of his coup detained Syed Sibt Hassan, Ahmed Nadim Qasimi and Faiz Ahmed Faiz, who worked for Progressive Papers Limited (PPL) and went a step further and took over the PPL papers on April 1959 and this move was aimed at reining the PPL from roaming in the “DISTANT ORBITS AND ALIEN HORIZONS” as the PPL backed leftist ideology. In 1964 National Press Trust was established and all the PPL papers handed over to this monster and NPT role in the blackening the image of journalism is by no means hidden on any one.

During the Bhutto era the intimidation and muzzling continued with the same zeal and the most shameful event was the arrest of the Altaf Gauhar editor Dawn on the ridiculous charges of “forging a passport, possessing obscene literature and contraband liquor.”

The Zia era was a darkest period for the journalists and in 1978 four journalists were flogged within 90 minutes after a phony court ordered it. The later democratic governments of Benazir and Nawaz were no better than their military comrade-in-arms. Daily Khabrain, Daily Jang, Friday Times and many others papers and journalists faced their wrath. The violence from the ethno-religious outfits is in addition to this.

Though, the media space had grown considerably under Musharraf, but media also has to suffer the worst under his government. Following the sacking of Chief Justice of Pakistan on March 09, 2007, media coverage of the issue forced government to ban the live coverage and its desperate moves led the government to impose emergency on November 03,2007, and private TV channels were taken off the air in one go. This ban continued for months; however, the complete blackout also failed to solve the miseries of the general and he had to pack up in August 2008.

The period was one of the darkest for the media freedom; however, following the elections new government assured full freedom to the media; however, its hollow rhetoric was exposed in its first trial as shadowy figures became active overnight and forced the cable operators to suspend the channel transmissions. Media has been the custodian of a great tradition of resistance and its history is a fairy tale of courage, hope and idealism against the dictates of the mighty in Pakistan. However, it is the voice of the dissent rather than conformism, which offers a ray of hope in the history of nations.

“A lifetime’s devotion,
And yearning have I given,
Not in vain,
That the nightingales play
To roses in full bloom.
It must come, it’ll come.
My reason, my dream.
Does it matter,
If I am gone?
Others will share the ecstasy-
All my roses,
All my nightingales.”

(Tr. M.A. Akhyar Press in Chains)

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One Response to Press in Chains: History of media gagging in Pakistan

  1. […] This cup of tea was served by: Thoughtlines […]

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