As if there was not already a prevailing problem, the government has decided to add to the restrictions on coverage. Education Minister Shafqat Mehmood, stated the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) will be asked to justify the airing of interviews of under-trial prisoners. According to Minister Mehmood, media coverage of under-trial prisoners isn’t allowed in any democracy, anywhere in the world.

First of all, the above statement is incorrect. Media coverage of under-trial prisoners is indeed allowed in many democracies of the world. In Pakistan it has been a frequent part of the media coverage of a trial, with convicts or accused frequently given air and interviews. Pakistan has seen in-depth interviews of even terrorists or heinous criminals, without any objection from the government.

Trials can drag on for years, and a person can be perpetually kept on trial for one reason or another - this makes for an easy recipe to unfairly keep people off air. When the accusers and the prosecutors have access to the media, keeping the accused away from it is against the principles of a fair trial; people can be defamed with no way to clear their name. Taking away the freedom of answering allegations should not translate to a moral victory.

Secondly, these new restrictions are not borne out of a need felt to address an epidemic problem in the media- it is clearly a reaction to the interview of Asif Ali Zardari. This is a short-sighted move aimed at keeping Opposition members of the air; it was not made because the government believes in the principle behind it. Using the legislature and executive oversight to prevent coverage of the opposition is an undemocratic move by the government- it presents a dangerous slippery slope that will lead to problematic consequences down the line.

The government should do well to remember that it is part of the parliament- imposing restrictions on certain members can backfire and they can come under those punitive measures too. Many government ministers are under investigation; even higher-ups of the federal cabinet were being investigated at one point, and it certainly would be surprising (although more even handed) if media were to be advised by the government to keep these persons off-air. If the government wishes to oppose the narratives of the opposition, then it should refute them, not silence them. Alternatively, perhaps it should look left and right and see that many in its own ranks are also under investigation for crimes of similar nature.