Erratic behaviour by media | Pakistan Today

Erratic behaviour by media

  • Freedom of expression must not be misused

Article 19 of the Pakistan Constitution reiterates the freedom of expression and speech in these worlds “Every citizen shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression and there shall be freedom of press, subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interest of the glory of Islam or the integrity, security or defence of Pakistan or any part thereof, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court {commission of} or incitement to an offence.”

The constitutional provision for freedom of expression and media is in consonance with the internationally recognized role of the state to regulate all the entities within its territorial limits in such a way that they contribute to the strengthening of the state, its ideological moorings, national interests and the moral values of the society with a view to promote peace and tranquility in the country. In fact there is no concept of unbridled media freedom in the world and rightly so. It is universally recognized that freedom comes with responsibility. The media in any state has to exhibit sense of responsibility while enjoying its freedom.

The Social Responsibility Theory propounded by Dr Robert Maynard Hutchison, Vice Chancellor of Chicago University, in 1947, which is regarded as the Magna Carta of the modern concept of freedom of expression, unequivocally said “freedom comes with responsibility.” It also emphasized the need for media to provide accurate, truthful and comprehensive account of events, act as a forum for exchange of comment and criticism, present and clarify goals and values of the society and make sure that it projects a representative picture of the constituent groups of the society. The report also reiterated the fact that society and public have a right to expect high standards of performance and as such intervention can be justified to secure the public good. Ethical and professional codes of conduct for the media drawn up by UNESCO, International Federation of Journalists, Media associations, Press Councils in the countries where a self-regulatory arrangement is in place and the code of ethics which forms the part of Press Council Ordinance in Pakistan invariably espouse the principles of the Social Responsibility Theory propounded by Hutchison Commission.

Judged on the touchstone of the foregoing, the media landscape in Pakistan presents a very dismal picture. While it zealously tends to maintain and protect its freedom, it is not showing the sense of social responsibility that goes with freedom of expression. The introduction of the private electronic media channels in the media landscape of the country has radically changed the media culture in the country. The media channels, in their craze for better ratings, often tend to cross the red line set by the Constitution, media regulatory laws and the licensing conditions, forcing the regulatory body, PEMRA, to take appropriate action to prevent such indiscretions. But the dilemma of the regulatory authority is that whenever it moves to check violations of the regulatory laws, it faces unjustified flak from the concerned media outlet and also by some representative bodies of the media whose actions reflect trade unionism rather than honest evaluation of the issue involved. Demonstrations are held to condemn the regulatory authority and even smear campaigns by the concerned media are run against the authority and its chairman.

No entity in the state, including media, is outside the purview of law. In case any party feels that it has been wronged by a regulatory authority it can seek redress for the complaint through appropriate forums or even go to the court instead of indulging in mudslinging and maligning the concerned institution or the person heading it. There is no room for such an erratic behaviour by media in any society  

Recently PEMRA found an electric channel violating the regulatory laws and licensing conditions, whereupon it imposed financial penalty on the channel and also ordered temporary closure of the concerned channel. In fact that channel had also been persistently running malicious, unethical and fabricated content targeting other media houses, media buying houses and advertisers. PEMRA took the action according to the law. Such actions do happen wherever media outlets commit violation of the regulatory law. It may be pointed out that Ofcom, a media regulatory authority in the UK, has imposed financial penalty on Republic Bharat TV a few days ago for offensive hate speech against Pakistan and its people. A statement by the authority said, “We concluded that this was a serious breach of our rules which warranted the imposition of statutory sanctions. These include: a financial penalty of £20,000, payable to HM Paymaster General; a direction not to repeat the programme; and a direction to broadcast a statement of our findings on a date —and in a form —to be determined by Ofcom.”

The channel however filed a petition against the PEMRA action in the Sind High Court. The court after preliminary hearing has suspended the orders of the authority till 14 January, asking PEMRA to submit its findings in the case. In the meanwhile the channel has unleashed a smear campaign against the authority and its chairman. Without waiting for the court decision on the fine and ban order, an anchor of the channel has even filed a petition in the Lahore Court challenging the appointment of the chairman PEMRA Salim Baig, claiming that it was made in violation of the rules. The court reportedly has issued notices to the respondents, namely the Federal Government, PEMRA, the DG PEMRA and the Chairman PEMRA. This action by the channel is surely a vindictive move and has nothing to do with the real issue. What will transpire as a result of the court proceedings cannot be predicted but I would like to make one observation that the appointment of the current Chairman Salim Baig was made by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting in the light of the Supreme Court orders.

As for as his suitability for the post of Chairman PEMRA is concerned, my observation is that it is for the first time that PEMRA is headed by a truly professional and competent officer. An officer of the Information Group (CSS) he has served as press secretary to Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and also performed his duties as Principal Information Officer, a pivotal position responsible for publicity of the government policies and narrative on crucial national issues as well as handling government media relations. It is pertinent to mention that in recognition of his performance as a bridge between the government and media, the APNS conferred the award of best PR man of the year on him, an unprecedented happening in the history of Pakistan. Who else would be the most suitable man to head an organization like PEMRA?

The redeeming aspect of this entire episode is that PBA, a representative body of the broadcasters, has through a press release not only condemned the action of the media channel but also reaffirmed its commitment to adhere to rule of law and the independence of the institutions that have been assigned to uphold and implement law. It is a laudable stance. No entity in the state, including media, is outside the purview of law. In case any party feels that it has been wronged by a regulatory authority it can seek redress for the complaint through appropriate forums or even go to the court instead of indulging in mudslinging and maligning the concerned institution or the person heading it. There is no room for such an erratic behaviour by media in any society.



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