Thursday, June 29, 2006

Prime Minister, do your job and let them do theirs

Much is made of Musharraf loosening the reins on the national press and allowing the news media a freer hand than they have enjoyed in decades. Yet, Musharraf was not motivated by altruism. In the first place, the mushrooming cable TV providers in the informal sector were difficult to regulate and foreign news and entertainment flowed unchecked into people's homes. In the second place, even a crackdown on the cable providers would not have stemmed the flow from foreign news channels because the cost of owning a satellite receiver had fallen to an almost insignificant level. Of course, Chinese style media controls were always out of the question, so Musharraf chose the politically savvy option: open the floodgates and bask in the praise that comes your way.

Yet, governments by their very nature dislike scrutiny. So it is that the federal government is seeking to ban the media from meetings of Parliamentary standing committees. The reason: the government has been embarrassed by a series of disclosures made by opposition members in the Public Accounts Committee. At one level the measure is almost farcical as the current Parliament must surely have set some kind of record for the amount of work it undertakes. But a more serious democratic principle will be eroded if the media is barred from sitting in on the meetings: the media is a watchdog that should be free to report on what the people's representatives are doing. This is all the more important when it comes to financial oversight which the PAC undertakes. The Prime Minister, Shaukat Aziz, never misses a chance to talk about good governance and transparency. Perhaps it's time to stop talking and start acting. Nip this in the bud, Prime Minister.

For more on the topic, read an editorial in the News here.

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