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ANALYSIS: PML-N’s Legacy Of Media Control And Censorship


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Since gaining independence in 1947, Pakistan’s ruling elite have perpetuated the oppressive colonial-era laws that control the press. These laws have largely restricted press freedom, and successive governments, both civilian and military, have introduced further regulations to constrain the media. The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), currently in power for the fifth time, has been particularly notorious for its repressive measures against the press.

PML-N’s strategy has consistently involved a mix of incentives and punitive actions towards the media. Recent initiatives, such as the proposed Media Regulatory Authority and amendments to the Defamation Ordinance, 2002, follow a familiar pattern established by laws like the Pakistan Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) of 2016. These efforts aim to control the media under the guise of preventing electronic crimes, often targeting journalists and rights activists.

Historically, the PML-N has taken a hard line against the media. In 1997, Saifur Rehman, then head of the Ehtesab Bureau, allegedly ordered the surveillance of prominent journalists, an act fiercely resisted by the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ). The party’s third government also targeted DAWN newspaper over the “DAWN leaks” controversy, resulting in high-profile dismissals within Nawaz Sharif’s administration.

PECA, passed during the PML-N’s third tenure, empowered the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) to prosecute electronic crimes, which have been used against media personnel. Despite multiple terms in power, neither Nawaz Sharif nor Shehbaz Sharif have championed press freedom; instead, they have enacted laws that stifle it.

Political parties frequently accuse the media of spreading disinformation or fake news. This is particularly pertinent in the digital age, where misinformation can spread rapidly. However, the solution lies not in harsh laws but in promoting ethical journalism. Efforts to establish a Media Complaints Commission by PFUJ and recommendations from a Supreme Court-formed commission in 2011 have been largely ignored by successive governments. Instead, these governments have opted for punitive measures against journalists.

The recent moves by the PML-N, including the Punjab Defamation Bill, 2024, which introduces special tribunals for prosecuting media personnel, are reminiscent of past attempts at media control, such as the PTI’s proposed Pakistan Media Authority. These laws are often turned against their creators when they fall out of power.

For a free and responsible media, self-regulation is essential. Media professionals must unite, reinforce the role of professional editors, and uphold factual reporting to combat the spread of fake news. Criticism and dissent are vital for democracy, and the freedom of the press must be protected to preserve these democratic values.


Hassan Naqvi
Hassan Naqvi
Hassan Naqvi is an award-winning digital, print, and broadcast investigative journalist who is the co-founder of The Scoop. He also hosts his web shows 'The Scoop' and 'The Hassan Naqvi Show'.


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