Punjab Assembly condemns—then praises—media

Pakistan’s spirited press is once again caught up in arms over the latest and most absurd attempt to discredit its voice. On Sunday, various journalist organizations in Larkana, Sindh province, followed in the recent footsteps of their colleagues in Lahore, Islamabad, and Karachi and observed a “black day” of protest, according to Pakistan’s The News.

The demonstrations were in reaction to a resolution passed by the Punjab Assembly in Lahore on June 9. The resolution condemned the media for suggesting that some assembly members held fake university degrees—a story that is making headlines all over Pakistan. So far, more than 12 members of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz political party alone reportedly may lose their place in parliament for holding fake degrees.

Today a lawyer filed a petition in the Lahore High Court challenging the resolution, stating that it is the “duty of the media to keep the people aware of what the elected representatives were doing and no curbs even by the legislative house should be imposed on it.”

In addition to accusing the media of behaving irresponsibly and “promoting anti-government propaganda that could destabilize Pakistan’s democratic future,” the resolution recommended the formation of a joint committee of journalists and parliamentarians to settle differences. The media, however, has been understandably uninterested in any such joint committee.

Vehement opposition has greeted news of the resolution across the country. After it was passed in Lahore, reporters shouted slogans against the chief minister of Punjab, Shahbaz Sharif, while journalists in Karachi demonstrated by covering their mouths with gags and tying their cameras in chains. Furthermore, several press unions have refused to cover any provincial or national assembly sessions until the resolution is rescinded. In a National Press Club rally in Sindh province’s Mirpurkhas on Tuesday, journalists also demanded the suspension of members of the assembly who hold fake degrees.

In an unexpected twist on Monday, the assembly, with its tail between its legs, announced it will issue a separate resolution praising the role of the media for “the restoration of democracy in the country,” the Daily Times reported. A good day for Pakistani journalists indeed, but one that leaves much to be desired from Pakistani parliamentarians.

Alia Ahmed is an intern in CPJ’s Journalist Assistance program.