Slavoj Zizek narrates an interesting joke from the former German Democratic Republic. A worker gets a job all the way in Siberia. He is aware that any and all correspondence of his will be read by the Soviet censors, so he tells his friends that they will establish a code: the content of any letter that he sends in ordinary blue ink would be the truth, but any letter that he sends in red ink would be false. After a month, his friends get his first letter, written in blue ink, much to their relief. The letter: everything is wonderful here: stores are full, food is abundant, apartments are large and properly heated, movie theaters show films from the West, —the only thing unavailable is red ink.
The Pakistani news media and commentariat is increasingly finding it difficult to churn up red ink. Topics that were acceptable last year in March, were unacceptable by August and topics considered kosher in August were off bounds by November.
We aren’t the first country in the world to face restrictions on the press, and this isn’t even the first time in our own country. The problem lies in the fact that the journalist community are soon going to be stopped from even complaining about how much the space is shrinking.
Anchors like Fareeha Idrees, for instance, have taken to twitter to wonder out loud where the so-called suppression is, only to be silenced by the nation’s lively twittersphere by being cited scores of areas that are to be avoided.
The establishment does not merely want the press to lay off certain topics, but it also wants it to keep articulating that it operates under complete and absolute freedom. It wants the like of Fareeha to state enthusiastically and believably that they are free. As Orwell’s 1984 spoke of the fascist state of Oceana: “In any case, to wear an improper expression on your face (to look incredulous when a victory was announced, for example) was itself a punishable offence. There was even a word for it in Newspeak: facecrime, it was called.”
Lahore journalist Rizwan Razi, a popular account on social media, who has a radio show with a large audience, was picked up by the authorities for “cyber crime.” The state is going to physically detain dissenting voices on twitter now.
In his book, Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman argues that between the two dystopian futures of George Orwell and Aldous Huxley, the latter will prevail; that the overflow of information will render useless old-school totalitarian censorship. But the Pakistani state, it would appear, doesn’t want to take any chances with that. Specially with newer, social-media driven movements having given the deep state a run for its money. They are firmly ensconced in the idea of stopping the flow of information. If, in the 21st century, it stops newspapers (yes, dying print newspapers) from getting to certain localities, then it is clear they are living in the past.