By wading into the debate surrounding the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority’s (Pemra) directive baring television anchors from appearing as “experts” in their own and other channels the Prime Minister has muddied the waters further. Not only has he taken the side of Pemra and stands opposed to the massive backlash against the directive, his comments make it seem as if the directive was sent out at the behest of the government – which brings the independence of the impartial regulator in question.

While chairing a meeting of the federal cabinet, Imran expressed resentment over tweets of Minister for Science and Technology Fawad Chaudhry, Human Rights Minister Dr Shireen Mazari and MNA Asad Umar against the Perma move and warned them against criticising the government decisions ‘openly’.

This statement is problematic on many levels. It asserts that government ministers and ruling party members are to take directions sent from higher up with any question or dissent; there is no space for reasonable debate or detraction. This is undoubtedly undemocratic. Each representative of the people in the Parliament is mandated to exercise their own judgement and rationality to represent his constituency to the best of their abilities; they are not meant to slavishly follow the orders of the party leaders as if they were in an autocratic set up. By chiding government ministers for public dissent instead of substantively dealing with the content of their concerns the Prime Minister has pushed a very regressive understanding of government – where the subordinates follow suit or are shown the door. Even more problematic is the implicit admission that the Pemra directive was a “government decisions.” The regulatory body is supposed to be independent, and hence is mandated to only apply existing regulations with policy input from the ruling government at the time; but here it seems that the ruling party is dictating what the regulatory body’s rules are going to be. This becomes even more concerning when we consider that the directive was attempting to reduce the airtime given to television news anchors and censor their speculative viewpoints. The government trying to curb media free speech is condemnable, the Prime Minister being personally involved in it even more so.

Prime Minister Imran Khan needs to understand that dissent – be it from your party or from the opposition – is an integral part of democracy. It should be cherished, not browbeaten into compliance.