Pakistan’s military dictators made several attempts to control the media because their tolerance level was fairly low and they could not take criticism of their policies. The worst period was General Ayub Khan’s regime when he introduced the infamous Press and Publications Ordinance in early 1960s. The track record of some of the political governments is not very good either, since a number of newspapers were shut down during their tenures. When General Ziaul Haq toppled the government of Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, he did not hesitate to lash journalists publicly only because they were campaigning against his illegal regime. However, General Pervez Musharraf’s regime turned out to be a bit different as far as the tolerance level was concerned. He not only let bitter criticism of his actions and policies take place, but also allowed a mushroom growth of print and electronic media that led to their near total independence. True that full freedom and independence are often abused which is mainly because there has not been any Code of Conduct to regulate the media as is the case in most of the countries. It is also to his credit that he introduced Press Freedom Ordinance and circulated the same to all media organisations and journalistic bodies to seek their approval.

And now the PPP government in its final year seems set to launch a war against the media by issuing new regulations through the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) to 'regulate' the electronic media, talk shows and news presentation in accordance with the standards it intends prescribing. One is at a loss to understand why the PPP had decided to control press freedom setting aside all constitutional clauses guaranteeing freedom of the press and independence of electronic media.

However, it is encouraging to note that the Punjab Chief Minister, Mian Shahbaz Sharif, has come out with a solid defence of media independence saying that his party would thwart any design of the federal government against freedom of the press and resist approval of any law to that effect. He did not mince his words while saying that it was the responsibility of the media to reflect facts and the rulers should try to improve their performance, instead of erecting hurdles in the way of journalists performing their duties. Although, the Federal Minister for Information, Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan, has, in a media talk, tried to dispel any impression regarding curbing the media, yet, it seems something is cooking. The government would be well advised to stay away from any such move.