Where the ex-premier has kicked open a veritable Pandora’s box with his latest sangfroid statement implicating Pakistan as the perpetrator behind the Mumbai attacks, the ensuing scuffle over the little-too-late gag order on the press for having the temerity to publish the interview in the first place is another ironic spectacle running alongside the chaotic turn of events preceding the election season. Where the ex-premier’s contentious interview can be described as a dour attempt at sinking the ship along with the drowning captain, the frantic scrambling to white wash his statement plays an equal part in further inflaming the issue.

The PCP’s notice on the “alleged violation of the ethical code of practice” does more to further aggravate the matter than stemming it, simply by imposing a subjective and after-the-fact censorship on the unrestricted and unadulterated mandate that should be the prerogative of every press in the free world.

Under the notice, the newspaper is allegedly in breach of Clause (9) of the ethical code of practice of the PCP Ordinance, 2002 ‘bringing into contempt, Pakistan or its people… undermining its sovereignty or integrity as an independent country’. The authority has broached a ‘more restrictive policy’ to be followed in such matters, plainly translated as a call for censorship. The fact remains that where, prima facie, the newspaper has published content that has brought to the fore an issue of much controversy, the onus of being an unbiased and impartial purveyor of facts prevails over arbitrary restrictions placed on it by dint of being the medium through which such contentious issues are communicated. Where the ex-premier stands irrevocable behind his inflammatory statements, it is unfair for the PCP to assert such restrictions and injunctions on the newspaper, simply for being even-handed in its publishing.

As expressed by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, there is no substantiation of the claim that Pakistan’s sovereignty or integrity has been undermined. Such restraints are indeed tantamount to press harassment and are an authoritarian bid to curb the freedom of expression and thoughts. Where the impetus should be on actively countering the polemic through inquiries and calls for substantiated evidence to the fact, maligning and chastising the newspaper is tantamount to proclaiming a gag-order and further associating with the controversy in methods of smokescreens and obfuscation instead of transparency and proven refutation. With the Indian media playing up the incident to further incite discord, our press and the authorities regulating it should be careful to not play into the trope that feeds such conspiracies.