April, 2018

Javed Jabbar – A Man of Many Facets

By Javed Ansari

Writing a piece on Javed Jabbar is a bewildering task. The word ‘multi-faceted’ in the English language is for this man. It fits him like a glove. He is into everything. He is an advertising professional, a writer, politician, intellectual, scholar, mass communications expert, a volunteer for many causes, an advocate for media freedom and has been many times a minister in different governments. He was minister of state for information and then science and technology under Benazir Bhutto in her first stint as prime minister, minister of petroleum in the interim government of Malik Mairaj Khalid and then a minister of infrormation and national affairs under President Pervez Musharraf.

Wake up, PEMRA!

Not very long ago, allegations was made on live TV that the person apprehended in the rape and murder of the little girl Zainab in Qasur was a member of a pornography gang, which also included a provincial minister and that the suspect had 37 foreign accounts. This sensational allegation was made by anchorperson Dr. Shahid Masood in his TV show. An investigation committee, formed by the Supreme Court to probe the accusations of Dr Shahid Masood regarding the convict Imran in the Zainab case, submitted its report to the Supreme Court and termed the accusations as baseless. Shahid Masood had claimed that he had proof to support his allegations but failed to provide the said proof before the Supreme Court. Subsequently, the Chief Justice of Pakistan, Justice Saqib Nisar, had no alternative but to ban Dr. Shahid Masood’s TV show for three months. The Chief Justice also expressed regret at the TV anchor’s continued intransigence.

The incident has again brought into focus the manner in which the so-called ‘liberated’ media in Pakistan operates after it was unchained in the early years of the past decade by President Musharraf’s regime. Three subsequent governments after that, namely those of Asif Zardari, Nawaz Sharif and Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, though professing themselves to be champions of democracy, have never objected to the behaviour of the media. Their adherence to the principles of democracy may not be visible so graphically in other areas of national life but they do not seem to have demonstrated any objections to the role that the media, particularly TV, has come to play in the national narrative.

Added to this factor is the role that the media has itself defined for its conduct and, it seems, the no-holds-barred attitude that Pakistani media seems to have devised for itself ever since it was set free, has many takers. It is in such an atmosphere of irresponsible freedom that people like Dr. Shahid Masood conduct a nightly programme. He openly makes allegations against anyone he wants and it seems no one raises any objections, or may be, they grind their teeth in private! This is, perhaps, how the anchorperson took things a bit too far.

In the days of ‘controlled’ print journalism, no reporter or writer could dare write anything and hope that it would be published without the editor questioning him or her as to the veracity of the story and then considering whether it was okay for publishing. The print media still have editors who can be held responsible for whatever is carried in their publications but it seems there is no such job position at TV news channels. The news programmes are put together by news producers and, at best, there is a news director who gives a final look to whatever is being put on air. The credentials of the news producers and news directors may or may not have anything to do with any previous experience in journalism. As for news talk shows, usually conducted by an anchorperson (male or female), again, not necessarily having previous journalistic experience, there is no ‘editor’ in the sense of print media. The news director usually does not have much to do with such shows because the anchorperson is the boss and the job of the news producer is only to ensure that the footage and the graphics are in order and the ‘short-breaks’ are taken at the given intervals. If there is anyone that the anchorperson discusses the day’s news show with about which persons to invite or contact on beeper, it is someone from the management or the owner himself. In all probability, the conversation is not about the content but about the ratings the show will bring.

It is obvious that PEMRA (Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority) is not playing its due role in this regard. As a regulatory body of electronic media, it should always be on its toes and should see to it that no TV channels cross the line. It seems, however, that the body is in a deep slumber and that whenever it wakes up, if ever, it chooses to act at the behest of the government, especially the ministry of information.

One of the recommendations of the Media Commission that was appointed by the Supreme Court of Pakistan in 2013 was that PEMRA should be entirely autonomous and should perform under the purview of the parliament. The Commission comprised Justice Nasir Aslam Zahid and Senator Javed Jabbar. It had recommended that while, between 2002 and 2013, PEMRA had facilitated the transformation of the electronic media landscape in Pakistan, there was urgent need to revisit and reconstruct the laws, regulations and rules of PEMRA so that it could represent the emerging realities and principles such as the issue of the regulatory body’s separation from the control of the executive. It was also recommended that the regulatory body should be administratively responsible to the parliament rather than a ministry or cabinet division.

Many noises have been made to devise some kind of a code of conduct but nothing has happened. It is, therefore, time for PEMRA to fully wake up and not only see what is happening around but to take action against these developments.


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Syed Jawaid Iqbal

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Zeba Jawaid

Javed Ansari
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Syeda Areeba Rasheed Faizan Usmani
Khawaja Amer

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Faisal Siddiqi
Sumair Aftab
Kashif Ali
Mamoon Ali Khan
Rohail Hassan
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Fareeha Khan

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Riaz Masih

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