The incident, despite the conflicting reports, has sparked much controversy, both in Pakistan and among members of the international community. In a press release, Reporters Without Borders condemned Schmidle's "forced departure," asserting, "This does not bode well for the situation of foreign journalists, especially the many reporters who will be going to Pakistan to cover the legislative elections due to take place in a month from now..." In the country, the PPP also condemned the alleged deportation, describing it as "outrageous." Pakistan's Daily Times cited PPP information secretary Sherry Rahman, who said despite the lifting of the so-called emergency, "the regime continued to hound media on one pretext or the other." She cited a recent report from the aforementioned Reporters Without Borders that described Pakistan as "the most dangerous Asian country for the media in 2007." The Times added, "Most astonishingly she said 34 journalists in the province of Sindh were booked on the charge of rioting following Benazir Bhutto’s assassination. After the November 3 martial law, the regime shut down 45 private satellite TV channels and two radio stations adding to its long list of unconstitutional moves over the last eight years." The alleged forced departure of Schmidle, she concluded, was "another reminder of the fact that an authoritarian leadership never had tolerance for independent voices."
The media in Pakistan has always been independent, vocal, and free-reigning. The recent incident, as well as the treatment of the press in the past few months, has been extremely significant given the current atmosphere and the rising dissent against the government. In a society that has been increasingly plagued by violence, riots, and subsequent crackdowns, what role has, can, and should the media play?
[A reader of this blog recently passed on a very poignant and interesting article by Shahan Mufti on the role of independent television in Pakistan, that is a good resource for this topic.]