September, 2018

‘We are still in the process of defining the issues.’

Imran Aslam, President GEO and Jang Group, talks to
Syeda Areeba Rasheed in this exclusive interview.


Unified Media Policy

With the setting up of PMRA (Pakistan Media Regulatory Authority), the print media has also come under the ambit of regulation. Newspapers and magazines have in the past experienced the PPO (Pakistan Press Ordnance) and the RPPO (Registration of Pakistan Press Ordnance), which were black laws instituted by dictatorial regimes of Ayub Khan and Ziaul Haq, respectively, to gag the press. The press in those days primarily only meant print media as there were no private television or radio channels. PTV was launched in 1964 but was state-owned and has, to this day, remained under state control. So has the Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation. The radio channels that came later were in the FM domain and none were permitted to broadcast news. Before PMRA came, there was PEMRA (Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority), which was established by the Musharraf government and was supposed to regulate television and radio. However, all it ended up doing was issuing TV and radio broadcast licences and making money. If ‘regulation’ was its primary task, this never became obvious in any noticeable manner and TV channels continued regardless, broadcasting whatever content they wanted to. It was evident that they did not care about those PEMRA laws under which they were issued broadcast licences. As had happened in the instances of the PPO and the RPPO, PEMRA too became a tool in the hands of the government in power and its influence as a regulatory body was never given any importance.

Now comes PMRA which is supposed to be a unified regulatory authority which will replace the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) and the Press Council of Pakistan. The inclusion of the Press Council in PMRA is quite strange because this body too never appeared to exercise any control on the print media and if it had any clout, this was never visible. PMRA has been envisioned as a single, unified authority to oversee print media, television, radio and cyber media and will, apparently, set the direction of the current government’s media policy. It will comprise government representatives as well as senior people from print and television in the private sector. While it is a good omen that all media have been brought under the ambit of a single body, it does not seem appropriate for the style of the present government to have any ‘control’ on media. Broad guidelines must surely be laid down for the media to follow but beyond that they should be left to their own devices and the government should not have anything to do with how the various components of the media function. In fact, under the new global realities, Pakistan does not even need a separate ministry dedicated to information and broadcasting. The position of Minister of Information and Broadcasting is a redundant one. He can be referred to as the spokesman of the Prime Minister or the federal government but beyond that he should not be setting any directions in terms of the government’s information policy. This position of spokesman can be created at the provincial level as well instead of having an information minister.

Perhaps, the continuation of the existence of an Information Ministry and the post of Information Ministers at the federal and provincial levels is an indication of things to come. For the moment, the government claims that it will not exercise any censorship on media and a token proof of this is the fact that now coverage of parliamentary proceedings, at least at the federal level, is live and considerable time is also given to the opposition parliamentarians on PTV. What direction will this freedom take in future? It will certainly be good for the cause of democracy if all the media are encouraged to pursue freedom of expression, of course, keeping the national ethos in view and serving the interests of Pakistan. At the same time, the government should put bodies like PMRA to work in formulating a code of ethics for all media as so far nothing has been done on this front, barring isolated efforts on the part of some TV channels or the self-censorship that the country’s print media have grown up with. Perhaps the federal and provincial information ministers should devote more time to the formulation of such a code in consultation with the owners and senior personnel at TV channels and in the print media.


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Zeba Jawaid

Javed Ansari
  Assistant Editors:
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