Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) seems to be taking the last two words in its name very seriously; under the new government it has steadily overseen and enabled an environment that clamps down on dissenting viewpoints and disenfranchises journalists from pursuing their profession with freedom. The latest notification to TV channels - imposing some restrictions on the appearance of retired military officers in TV programmes as defence analysts – is another steep that will sap our political dialogue from diversity of opinion. It is not surprising that there is pushback; the Ex-Servicemen Legal Forum, an association of retired army officers-turned-lawyers, has decided to challenge a notification in the Islamabad High Court (IHC).

On the face of it the Pemra notification makes a valid argument - that retired military officers are often not well versed with the latest military developments and are often dragged down into political debates that are crux of most TV programmes. When one looks across the border to India and sees retired military officers dressed in full regalia, playing to the tune of the news networks that pays them, and purporting to be the official voice of the armed forces, we can see the wisdom of regulating their appearances in the media.

However, Pemra’s notification is deeply flawed – it does not eliminate the problem of out of touch military men getting bogged down in political debates on TV, it says that those invited must seek prior clearance from the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR). The debates will still happen, the lack of updated knowledge still persists, only now the opinions of the “approved” retired military officials will be considered official as opposed to their own personal views; which in many cases will cause more problems than it solves. Furthermore this screening of viewpoints objectively harms lively debate – we will only hear the official version from now on, not those that might have something different to say.

The second part of the notification is even more preposterous – asking people to only affix “analyst” to their names instead of “defence analyst”. The change in tittle will not change the weight of their argument nor change the nature of their expertise. We can certainly be more circumspect in dishing out the tittle of defence analyst, but it cannot be denied that there exists a vast cadre of journalists and academics who devote their lives to studying war, strategy and geopolitics. In many cases they are more deserving of the label than a retired military officer is.

It is hoped that the court appreciates the restrictive nature of these regulations and rules in favour of freedom of speech.