Freedom of Speech and Censorship of Ansar Abbasi

Aug 13th, 2012 | By | Category: Censorship, Jang

Ansar Abbasi once again finds himself at the center of controversy, this time not because of what he wrote in an article published by The News or Daily Jang but because of what he wrote in an article not published by his employer. This latest incident has resulted in that unique situation where conservatives demand an end to censorship and liberals demand more of Abbasi’s writing. But is there really a controversy here? Or is it another storm in a tea cup?

Ironically, in the article that was supposedly censored, Ansar Abbasi complains at great length about cable operators and media owners showing ‘Indian culture’ which is, according to Abbasi, filled with vulgarity and nudity. He goes on to complain that nobody is doing anything about it. For example, censoring it.

So here we have a situation in which a writer who is demanding greater censorship is now complaining that he has been censored? Some might term that as blatant hypocrisy, but such a label is unwarranted. After all, Abbasi was never censored.

Why do I say Ansar Abbasi was not censored? For the same reason that I – and everyone else – knows what he wrote. It was published on the website of Saach.TV.

This should not be difficult to understand. If Saach TV published the article, it wasn’t censored. Now, some will respond that it was censored by Jang, where Abbasi is employed and where the piece was originally filed. But this raises an important question: Are media groups obligated to publish any foolish thing that they are given?

What if Ansar Abbasi’s piece had not been anti-India but had been about how Krishna came to him in a dream and now he has converted to Hindu and that he calls on all Muslims to abandon their faith. Would it be censorship if Jang chose not to publish it?

Media groups like Jang are private businesses, and with the growth of private media groups, there is competition between them for an audience. The Nation is not obligated to publish pieces by Marvi Sirmed, and Dawn TV is not obligated to broadcast a show hosted by Zaid Hamid. Freedom of the press means that a media group has the right to report whatever it wants, but it also means the same media group has the right not to publish what it doesn’t want.

In this case, Ansar Abbasi submitted a piece to Jang and for whatever reason the editors there chose not to publish it. Maybe they thought it was embarrassingly stupid. Maybe they just didn’t have space for it. Does that mean that Abbasi’s pro-censorship article went unread? Obviously not. Another media group, Saach TV chose to publish it and now it is widely available. PEMRA has not issued any order to destroy all copies, and Army is not storming media offices or placing Abbasi under arrest. In short, nothing has been censored at all.

Article 19 grants every citizen the right to freedom of speech and expression and protects freedom of the press. Article 19A grants every citizen the right to access information in all matters of public importance. Nowhere, however, does the Constitution grant every citizen the fundamental right to be published in a newspaper. Ansar Abbasi has the right to write whatever he wants. And Jang has the right to decide whether or not they believe his writing is worth publishing. That’s not censorship, it’s editing.

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