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Silence kills democracy, but a free press talks

Silence kills democracy, but a free press talks

By Umar Cheema

There couldn’t have been a greater admission. Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani recently told journalists that running government is not an easy job under the watch of a critical media. His remarks are dictated by personal experience.

Mr. Gillani is running a government rocked by corruption scandals. His family is not immune either. Two of the PM’s sons—both lawmakers—have been implicated in mega scams. He himself faces contempt of court charges for not proceeding against President Asif Ali Zardari who allegedly stashed huge amounts of money in Swiss banks. Mr. Gillani’s close advisors also face court trials on corruption allegations.

In the foreign press, Pakistan receives negative coverage due to terrorism-related reports. Inside the country, people are more concerned about rampant corruption, one of the key reasons behind a disaffected population turning to militancy. “There are seven days in a week but Islamabad manages to produce eight scandals a week,” writes Dr. Farrukh Saleem, an economist. The more information that is transmitted to the public, the further frustration it spreads, resulting in stimulating debates about the accountability of the government.

Mr. Gillani’s is the first democratic government facing an all-pervasive media. Before him, a military ruler, Gen. Pervaiz Musharraf, governed for eight years. The dictator’s damage to democratic institutions apart, his decision (that he later repented) to liberalise the airwaves in 2002 has had a snowballing effect as it put the country on the path of change. From originally one state-run TV there are now 90 channels; from one state-run radio there are now 130 FM stations. There are now also over 4000 print publications across Pakistan.

This is an editorial by Umar Cheema to mark World Press Freedom Day. To read more, or download it for free, please see our Press Freedom Website.


Hannah Vinter


2012-05-03 15:43

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