One of features closely associated with fascist regimes is the existence of a controlled mass media. States that are repressive and indifferent to public liberties either control the media directly or via indirect means through different sets of rules and promulgations. It is disturbing to note that every government – be it civil or military – that has come to power in Pakistan has tried its best to infringe upon the freedom of the press. Pakistan has a vibrant culture of press and journalism serving as the watchdog of the society, but over time countless attempts have been made to muzzle the media.

The current Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N) government was planing to rein in the “out of control” media - as the draft of the “Pakistan Print Media Regulatory Authority Ordinance” reveals. The proposed piece of legislation regards the press and the public’s right to information as threats to the state; making it mandatory for newspapers to seek annual renewal of their licences and sought to give authorities power to raid media houses at will.

However, the good news is that because of immense pressure from civil society and media, the government abandoned the idea of promulgating the ordinance. Not only have they abandoned it, the higher authorities have disowned the draft. Instead, two information service officers were immediately made officers on special duty (OSD) to investigate the person responsible for publishing the draft, and one has been suspended. The ruling party is lucky as it always seems to find people to take the fall for the blunders it makes.

Regardless of who is responsible, it is shocking to note that a democratic government was trying to put restrictions on freedom of the press. It automatically leads to denying the public its fundamental right of seeking information. The government should not have thought of introducing the law in the first place. It should have realized that any such move was a blatant attempt at censorship and curtailment of free speech.

The 2017 report of World Press Freedom Index is an eye opener in this regard. Pakistan was ranked 139 out of 180 in the report despite the fact that nearly a decade ago the transition to democracy had begun. In times when Pakistani public needs to be more questioning about mistakes committed in the past, the media needs more vigilant to question the performance of the government and its institutions,. The ruling party was aiming to bring such activities to a halt. The government needs to be aware of the fact that the first step in moving society to accept fascism is putting unnecessary restrictions on media.