Dawn Editorial 30 October 2019

Pemra’s absurd directive

IT is a bizarre directive, but entirely in keeping with the relentless assault on press freedom in this country.
The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority on Sunday declared that TV anchors could no longer offer their opinions on either their own talk shows or on other current affairs programmes as “subject matter experts”.
Their role, it said, must be limited to that of a “moderator” alone.
Moreover, according to the regulatory body, participants in such shows should “be selected with due care having credibility as fair and unbiased analysts with requisite knowledge/expertise on the subject matter”.
It referenced the Islamabad High Court having recently taken notice of talk shows in which the judiciary and institutions were ‘maligned’ and sub judice matters discussed, as the reasoning behind its latest salvo against freedom of expression.
Not surprisingly, the directive generated a furore among the media and the political class. Even federal ministers Shireen Mazari and Fawad Chaudhry as well as former finance minister Asad Umar minced no words in denouncing the move.
After trying to justify yet another ill-thought-out action taken by the ‘autonomous’ regulatory authority, the PTI government backtracked a little, claiming — falsely — that Pemra had merely issued an ‘advisory’.
The authority has no jurisdiction to define the job description of those in the profession of journalism. Nor is it its prerogative to expound on the qualifications of an ‘acceptable’ analyst.
Certainly, there are considerations as to language, sub judice matters, etc that talk show hosts must keep in mind, and there are procedures prescribed under the Pemra Act to deal with code of conduct violations.
However, procedures have fallen by the wayside in an environment where debate and dissent are being actively and unlawfully suppressed.
The arbitrary measures taken to straitjacket the media during the past year — some of them originating from ‘unknown quarters’ — include ordering channels to be taken off air, press conferences muted or not aired at all, interviews suspended, etc. The government also floated the preposterous idea of media tribunals which was fortunately shelved when it met with vociferous condemnation from the journalist community.
The ever-expanding strictures on press freedom are now beginning to throttle even the voice of those television anchors who earlier shrugged off allegations that the media in Pakistan is under sustained attack.
One may well ask whether Pemra’s latest move is a response to the fact that talk show hosts have of late become a tad more critical of the government’s performance, which some PTI legislators have found extremely irksome.
A free press is one that holds the state’s feet to the fire. The drive to reshape the media landscape into an anodyne entity shorn of any independent thought or public interest journalism can only be countered by collective resistance. Any threat to freedom of expression is a common enemy of journalists and should be treated as such.
Published in Dawn, October 30th, 2019


IMF talks and strike

THE first review of the ongoing IMF programme has kicked off in Islamabad at precisely the same time as the traders’ strike, which by all indications has been widely observed around the country. The timing is very significant, since the government has promised to forward the traders’ demand for the withdrawal of some key documentation measures to the IMF. The fact that the Fund will be asked to consider this request in the midst of an ongoing countrywide strike will perhaps add some urgency to the discussions. What is important, however, is that in the middle of this urgency, the costs and consequences of a retreat from the documentation goals of the government, announced in its last budget as well as clearly laid out in the Fund programme, will be very large. The traders are adamant that who they buy from and sell to is none of the government’s concern, only the quantum of revenue that is recovered from them is its business. But in the last budget speech, it was clearly said that the “primary theme of this budget is to improve documentation of economy”, and conceding to the traders’ demand to consider one tax on turnover as a full and final settlement of their tax obligations would be nothing short of a retreat from this position.
The IMF must impress upon the government the cost of retreating from its goal of documentation of the economy. It is fair for the government to search for ways to break the impasse created by the imposition of a CNIC condition upon all transactions of traders since this condition has nearly jammed the wheels of the economy. The supply chain of vendors, suppliers, distributors, retailers and wholesalers that keeps the manufacturing industry in motion and supplied with raw materials, and access to markets where they can disgorge their output, is currently halted mainly due to the imposition of this condition. It was easy enough to see the impasse coming in July when the documentation efforts were launched, but at the time the government repeatedly struck a strong and unequivocal note, signalling its determination to not back down. Having come this far, if it should now bow before the traders’ demands, the ‘primary theme’ of the budget and the government’s economic programme would stand defeated, barely one quarter into the new fiscal year.


Hockey fiasco

IT is nothing short of a national shame. For the second consecutive time, the Pakistan hockey team failed to qualify for the Olympics. After their failure to make the grade in the Rio Games in 2016, the few hopes that Pakistan harboured for the Tokyo 2020 Games were dashed on Sunday when Holland defeated them 6-1 in the second qualifier to book a berth at the Olympics. Though the Pakistanis had shown some spark in the first qualifier when they had held hosts Holland to a 4-4 draw, they allowed the Dutch to trample all over them in the second match. However, such has been the state of Pakistan hockey over the past two decades that it came as no shock to fans and critics when the team failed to qualify. For the mandarins who run the hockey show, though, the priorities lay elsewhere. The harsh truth is that the national sport has been reduced to a game of musical chairs, where the Olympians of yesteryear have taken turns to deprive hockey of both prestige and funds. Pakistan — three-time Olympic winners in 1960, 1968 and 1984 — are currently ranked at 17th in world hockey.
Meanwhile, the country’s obsession with cricket has not helped as hockey’s sponsors and well-wishers have switched their loyalties to the gentleman’s game, the highly successful PSL being a prime example. A similar plan to raise a private league to revive hockey’s flagging fortunes has sadly not taken off, primarily due to the ineptitude of the Pakistan Hockey Federation and the government’s indifferent attitude. The sport has undergone a major transformation over the years insofar as pace and technique as well as rules and regulations are concerned. The European nations have adapted well to the change. But Pakistan hockey seems to be still playing the old-style game more suited to the 1970s and 1980s. Pakistan will have to alter the entire pattern of play if they want to ensure a place for themselves at the Paris 2024 Games.
Published in Dawn, October 30th, 2019


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