With the liberalisation of media in Pakistan, many thought that the state would have no or little control on curbing of the political voices and opinions. But the then government was quick to establish a regulatory body, Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra). Pemra, instead of performing its primary task of being a supervisory authority, however, has become a tool in the hands of the government to curtail political voices. One cannot agree more with the latest judgement of the Peshawar High Court (PHC) that declares the Pemra bar on Moulana Fazl-ur-Rehman’s press conference illegal. The judgment rightly notes that Pemra’s act violated the constitution and the Pemra Ordinance, 2002.

Unfortunately, the state has been using Pemra as a tool to continue its control over private electronic media after the end of Pakistan Television monopoly. State gagging political dissent or opposition leaders’ point of views through Pemra defeats the whole purpose of establishing such a regulatory body. But the government probably forgets that other sources like the internet and social media are even more potent in propagating a person’s ideas and opinion. In any case, those who want to listen to Moulana’s press conference will listen to that via other means. But Pemra’s verbal orders to stop channels from telecasting Moulana’s presser show the state’s paranoia.

It is sad to note that the government of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) the rapid pace with which PTI has shifted its core liberal policies. It would be hardly a surprise if the regulatory body took the initiative on its own. Given that the body must have received orders from the government saying that PTI is violating the fundamental rights of the people is not wrong.

As said earlier, Pemra has deviated from its real objectives long ago; it is about time to suggest radical proposals regarding the control of the body. Presently, Pemra falls under the purview of the Information ministry. Thus the government can use it to abuse right to information and broadcast media’s mandate to coverage.

Pemra’s oversight should be in the hands of a committee constituted by the members of the treasury and opposition benches. Only this way, Pemra can achieve its objectives of regulating the content on media and the government can be kept in check and stopped from violating people’s rights. Hopefully, Pemra will take the rule of the PHC seriously. The PHC ruling is welcome, as it will stop the body from blacking out the coverage of political expressions that are vital for the continuity of democracy in the country.