The Press Clubs of this country have served as sanctuaries of freedom of speech and expression. Even when these freedoms were at risk, the grounds of the Press Clubs were home to all kinds of journalists and reporters. Throughout history, our Press Clubs have always championed an independent media and defence of progressive ideas.

It is thus unfortunate that Press Clubs today do not symbolise the same ideals of freedom that they did. The most recent example of this is the cancellation of a press conference at the National Press Club Islamabad planned by Members of Parliament Mohsin Dawar and Ali Wazir, who also happen to be activists in the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM). According to independent MNA Mohsin Dawa, he and fellow MNA Ali Wazir were not allowed to hold a press conference at the NPC ‘despite having a booking’. The obstruction of the press conference has drawn ire from some human rights activists and indeed has even caught the attention of a very prominent politician- Bilawal Bhutto, Chairman of the Pakistan People’s Party, voiced his disappointment at the cancellation of the press conference by the “sanctuary” of free speech.

It must be mentioned that the Press Club’s president, Shakeel Qarar, maintains that the PTM did not make any booking before the event because of which the press conference did not receive any coverage. He has said that neither the press club nor any other official from the state was behind the move. Yet this explanation leaves much to be desired for. Considering the history and context of PTM protests, most of which have been forcibly cancelled or stopped, the explanation that the organisers did not seek out a NOC is not so easily accepted, especially since members of Parliament allege the contrary.

While one can have disagreements with Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari over many things, his words that Press Clubs have always been sanctuaries of free speech historically cannot be rejected. Sharing the disappointment of Mr Bilawal, the new trend in the behaviour of Press Clubs is unfortunate. It is hoped that the progressive values and freedoms that the Press Clubs were founded upon will be remembered by the media industry soon, and this culture of cancellation of protests and press conferences do not continue.