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No coverage for Altaf

No coverage for Altaf

The order by the Lahore High Court directing print and electronic media regulators to ensure there is no media coverage whatsoever of Altaf Hussain’s speeches and statements is extraordinarily troubling.

The MQM chief has clearly made some incendiary and disturbing speeches in recent times and wiser political counsel does need to prevail on him. But is it in the interests of the superior judiciary, acting on petitions seemingly moved by individuals with a thinly veiled agenda against the MQM and in favour of the military establishment, to be venturing so deep into the domain of what is quite clearly political speech?

Know more: Broadcast of Altaf Hussain's images, speeches banned by LHC




Where Mr Hussain oversteps the mark in terms of language not fit for general TV viewership, a simple delay by a few seconds of live broadcasts can address the problem.

If Mr Hussain says something that is liable to be prosecuted under the law, the individuals or institution assailed by the MQM supremo can approach the courts directly for redress. Surely though, a state-sanctioned ban on coverage of any kind of leader of a mainstream political party is a step too far.

The public has a right to know what a political leader is saying and the leader has a right to reach out to the public.

Unhappily, the MQM has compounded the problems for itself by its historical mistreatment of sections of the media.

Anyone familiar with Mr Hussain’s marathon live national broadcasts would also be aware that no other political figure is accorded such extreme deference.

The reason why a leader of a party confined to mostly a sub-region in one province can dominate the national airwaves is an open secret: threats to and intimidation of the media, which has a massive presence and several organisational headquarters in Karachi, has ensured the blanket coverage of Mr Hussain’s speeches and statements over the decades.

Yet, a ban cannot and must not be the answer. The state has a duty to protect the freedom of speech — it cannot be seen to be dismantling that very edifice.

Moreover, in decades past, when state media has blocked coverage of particular political parties and their leaders, it is not as if the message did not filter down to the public. Repression breeds sympathy.

In any case, with the proliferation of social media and internet usage, the average citizen has access to any number of platforms from which Mr Hussain’s words can be read, heard and accessed. The Supreme Court needs to set matters right.

Published in Dawn, September 9th, 2015

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