President Zardari has assured members of the Press Council of Pakistan that the government is committed to ensuring the freedom of expression. The President’s stand must be welcomed. The Press Council of Pakistan had felt the need to convey their concerns to the President because of certain steps by the government for instance, the recently proposed Code of Ethics besides certain utterances by the Information Minister about controlling the conduct of the media. This has generated a perception that the government is clipping the wings of the media, although there are quarters who credit the PPP-led setup for being tolerant in the face of bad press it has been receiving so far.

First of all, media is the reflection of society. Its main purpose is to report not impose its opinion on the public. If the reports and news bulletins are about bomb blasts, scandals and such things, it doesn’t mean it is media that is cooking up such stories of its own. Talking of media revolution, one must pat General Musharraf on the back for issuing licences and declarations to news channels and newspapers. Governments in the past had been delaying these licences out of the fear that an independent media might pose a threat to their rule. That was, of course, an unfounded concern and it took a man of Musharraf’s courage to finally issue all those pending licences. It seems ironic because it was a military regime that was doing something considered to be the moral and constitutional duty of a democratic dispensation. Surprisingly, the regime also issued a Press Freedom Ordinance. Having said that towards the end of his rule, he resorted to gag the press and ended up damaging his reputation for doing all the good work for media’s liberation. And when the Zardari government assumed office, it too was not comfortable with media’s new found might, but it had to adjust to the change. Its tolerance level initially was quite low but eventually realised that it should let the media work independently. And that is where one must applaud the PPP-led government. For instance, recently, the media kept reporting impartially and freely on a number of issues ranging from memogate scandal, government-judiciary tussle and the contempt proceedings against the Prime Minister. And it must be noted that the PPP set-up did not try to muzzle the media.

However, of late, the government has been sending feelers that it is not happy seeing the press act independently. The proposed Code of Conduct for media and the failure to amend the defamation act adds to this impression. It is the government’s job to dispel that perception through steps that should speak for themselves. It ought to accept the demands of the Press Council of Pakistan and allay its reservations, particularly regarding the Code of Ethics. It must not be forgotten that a strong media can guarantee strong democracy.