Daily Times Editorial 13 December 2019

Curbs on media

 

Since its inception, the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government has never tried to hide its desire to clip the wings of the opposition as well the media. It has made many botched attempts to gag dissenting voices on the media; earlier, it planned to enact a Pakistan Print Media Regulatory Authority to control the media in December. Facing huge backlash from both the media and civil society, it stepped back but only for a while. In September, the government again unveiled its set of wishes to pin the media by establishing media tribunals for speedy disposal of media-related cases. The idea also backfired as no stakeholders such as media unions, journalists, media houses and media bodies supported it. The Pakistan Telecommunications Authority has also put up its wish list asking for more powers and technological tools to monitor social media and other sites on the internet. If all these attempts were not enough to learn the right lessons, the government has unveiled its latest media related move to make laws barring media from covering convicts and absconders (read opposition). In fact, the government has already enforced ban on airing interviews of opposition leaders, and on occasions, interviews of under-trial prisoner like Asif Zardari and Maryam Nawaz were abruptly stopped. According to Special Assistant to Prime Minister Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan, “Unfortunately, those convicts and absconders who looted public money are glorified in the media as they frequently come on TV and claim to be innocent and criticise the government and its policies.” The cabinet has tasked the law minister to consult Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority officials to finalise a draft of the law.
Thanks to the government’s numerical poverty in the opposition-led Senate, the bill may not see the light of day but the government must take a sane approach and listen to Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, who also highlighted reports regarding curbs on media. The proposed move is against the soul of the constitution as no law should bar media from covering anyone. Even a convict has the right to speak on his case. We have seen many convicts at one stage emerge acquitted of charges from superior courts. Even those convicted in superior courts may emerge innocent at any stage in the wake of new evidence. The same can be said about absconders. It is not that every absconding person is guilty of crime; people are implicated in false cases for political or other reasons. In such scenarios, the media provide a platform to people to defend themselves. *

 
 

After the hospital attack

 

Tension will understandably simmer among lawyers and doctors alike as the police force has registered cases, under the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA), against 250 lawyers responsible for the carnage at Punjab Institute of Cardiology (PIC) on Wednesday. The incident provides a soul-searching occasion to lawyers and doctors about their professional conduct. When a lawyer betrays a client with bad arguments in court, he harms one individual. But when the lawyer community as a whole takes the law into its hands, and attacks a sensitive place like a cardiology hospital to settle an old score with an individual doctor, it shows collective bankruptcy. Not long ago, this paper took up the subject, ‘Violence in hospitals’ (December 9), highlighting the rising incidents of aggression against doctors and paramedics, but it was never thought that the subject would be revisited within four days. The attack on PIC by the mob wearing black coats, which resulted in deaths of three patients and injuries to several others, will forever be remembered a barbaric act.
Provoked by, according to the protesting lawyers themselves, a ‘mocking video’ made by doctors, they simply broke into the hospital premises, beat doctors, nurses, paramedics, patients and their attendants, besides clashing with police and journalists. Video footage of the mob beating Punjab Information Minister Fayyazul Hassan Chohan, who was dispatched by the chief minister for damage control, is still doing the rounds on social media. The black coats burnt a police van and forced shopkeepers to shut and run. The violence claimed the lives of at least three patients, according to Provincial Health Minister Yasmeen Rashid. Prime Minister Imran Khan and Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar have taken note of the incident and ordered an inquiry.
Doctors also share the blame for the hike in violence in hospitals. With the inception of Young Doctors Association activism in recent years, hospitals often become scenes of strikes, fistfights, and closure of wards. Both the public and healthcare providers need to be educated on hospital ethics and laws. *

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