Pressing for News

Islamabad was built in 1961. The wide streets, hallmarks of a government city, are the first things I notice.

The broad three lane thoroughfares allow for parades, marching soldiers, military equipment and the like. Certainly these are imaginable in this city, and one such mini-highway runs directly toward the palace of the President. The governement buildings are enormous, marble monoliths, expressing a militaristic, male-mindedness. The marble is mottled white. These guys mean business.

I had the opportunity to enter one of these buildings to visit the Minister of Information, Sheikh Rashid Ahmed. Ahmed fancies himself an intellectual, although if nothing else, he is a survivor. "I've been in five successive governments," he announced. His first appointment came in 1985. He has been jailed for a number of years as a member of the opposition in the early 1990s, though I have no idea what "jail" means to a Minister, and have my doubts that it was anything but a version of house arrest. We discussed the control over radio, tv and information that the government has. Pakistan laws make it illegal for foreign-produced news or programs to be shown on local channels. Ahmed gave forth about the need for control of programming content, how he responds to what the viewers themselves tell him. Essentially, according to Ahmed, the average Pakistani is unprepared for too much choice. I thought for a brief minute before interjecting. "It seems to me that having greater programming, and wider chioce, would actually lead to more freedom." To him, this was an "intellectual point," which I assumed meant that it was removed from daily reality. Are Pakistanis unprepared as well to make individual choices?

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