India Uncut

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Monday, March 06, 2006

Free press? What free press?

Friends of mine have been writing to me from Pakistan about how they can't read India Uncut there: all Blogspot blogs have been blocked by the Pakistan government. This exposes, yet again, the myth that there is freedom of expression and a free press in Pakistan.

When I'd first landed in Pakistan in January, I was surprised that the newspapers there had far more anti-Musharraf editorial articles and op-eds than even Indian newspapers did. It fitted in perfectly with what I'd been told about Musharraf's government being relatively liberal, and the press being free. But all that was just on the surface.

The truth, as I discovered over my trip through the country, is that only the English press, which is read by just the elite, has any degree of freedom. The vernacular press, which is far more influential in political terms, has no freedom whatsoever. Dissenting journalists have been known to disappear overnight, while foreign observers read the op-eds in English papers and laud the freedom of the press.

And even in the English papers, as I'd written earlier, the freedom is restricted to the opinion pages. Investigative stories about the government are explicitly discouraged, as a friend in one of the leading dailies there emphasised when she revealed to me that the staffers where she worked recently got a memo asking them to steer away from any news that might embarrass the government.

In the other words, from more Mukhtar Mais. If you hear about more such cases, it will be from the foreign press, not the local media. And the people of Pakistan may well be the last to read about it.

Update: In a mail a couple of days back, Danial Ahmed pointed me to a forum on the subject in Urdu, and asked me to "write about it and ask other Indian bloggers to do the same." Well, I've written about it, and I hope other bloggers take this issue up. This ban must be terribly stifling for the Pakistani bloggers who use blogspot, and for the readers who are deprived of such a variety of perspectives. If you have strong feelings on the subject, do blog about it. Every drop helps make the ocean, and suchlike.

Update (March 15): Murtaza Razvi, the resident editor of Dawn in Lahore, disagrees with this post. I've quoted his mail to me here.
amit varma, 11:57 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage

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