- By Carolyn O'HaraCarolyn O'Hara is a senior editor at Foreign Policy.
Buried in the WSJ‘s interview with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf today was this little gem:
WSJ: Now you have two well-known figures from the 1990’s, Mr. Sharif and Mr. Zardari, back in very powerful positions. Are you confident that the problems Pakistan had in the 1990’s won’t crop [up]again?
Mr. Musharraf: I hope not. There’s the National Security Council, as I said. The other check is the freedom of the media. I would like to take all the credit for that. Whatever the media says, it is I who gave them the private television channels. Back in 2001, there used to be one — Pakistan Television. Today, there are over 50 channels operating. The media should exercise a check over the government.
All the credit? For Pakistan’s lousy "Not Free" rating from Freedom House’s Freedom of the Press rankings? Or how about for American freelancer Nicholas Schmidle’s expulsion from Pakistan last month a few days after he wrote about the Taliban in the frontier provinces? How about the fact that foreign journalists are essentially barred from reporting in half the country?
Musharraf specifically cites Pakistan’s private television channels, apparently as levers of freedom he has bequeathed to the country. But he shut down most of those same channels during the recent emergency period; riot police tore up the offices of one of the most popular channels; and popular TV journalists have been put on "forced leave" or made to sign codes of conduct once they were allowed back on air. So, yes, Musharraf is right when he says "[t]he media should exercise a check over the government." But journalists have to be allowed to operate without censorship first.