Senior journalist and author Zahid Hussain has said the Pakistani media is going back to the censorship days of military dictator Ziaul Haq when news content had to be cleared before being printed.
In a column in Dawn dated October 23, Hussain wrote about how in the "bad old days of Gen Ziaul Haq, newspapers would often carry blank spaces indicating that certain stories had been pulled out by the authorities."
"We seem to have come full circle with the looming shadow of authoritarianism. Slowly but surely, the Ziaist model is coming back. There may not be pre-censorship where the media is concerned as yet, but we are close to it," he said highlighting that the methods of control are different but the objective remains the same.
The author cited several examples to buttress his claim that media in the country is being censored.
"The muted voices of listed opposition leaders are reminiscent of the blank spaces in newspapers during the 1980s," he said and referred to JUI-F head Maulana Fazlur Rehman's press conferences and rallies not being broadcast.
"It's amusing to watch the maulana on-screen with his voice muted -- 'read my lips'," Hussain said.
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Hussain further cited examples of Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) banning former president Asif Ali Zardari's interview and TV Channels being instructed not to telecast Maryam Nawaz's pressers.
"Unlike the Zia period, when the military had publicly set the rules of the game, matters are more arbitrary now. Perhaps it has something to do with the existing hybrid power structure. A deliberate ambiguity is maintained around the executing authority," he said noting that instructions to the media come from 'unspecified' authorities.
Stressing that the Prime Minister Imran Khan-led PTI government is panicking with the Maulana's call for storming the capital, Hussain said it is his (Maulana's) democratic right to protest even if one completely disagrees with his shenanigans.
Recalling how PTI had marched into the capital with thousands of its supporters laying siege to the city for almost four months calling for the resignation of the then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, the writer said Imran Khan has benefited from a free media.
Terming the shrinking space for a free and independent media as "disturbing", Hussain wrote, "It is not just about the blackout of some opposition political leaders, but the manipulation of the media. The attempt to control the press and encourage a pliant media is extremely dangerous. Recent moves against the independent media demonstrate weakening civilian power. A major question is, who is in charge?"
He emphasised on the need for civil and military leadership in Pakistan to understand that the world has changed since the Zia period, Hussain said, "Such draconian measures can only bring embarrassment to those controlling the levers of power. The suppression of the fundamental right of freedom of expression can only weaken the state. Imran Khan should learn from the past -- such actions only strengthen non-elected institutions of the state.
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