Some Basic Concerns of the Media Commission
1. Before presenting in detail its Findings, Observations and Recommendations, the Commission records, at the very outset, some basic concerns as stated below:
3. Equally, if not more notable is the fact that, to date i.e. end-May 2013, a period of about 45 days since the placement of Part-One of the Report on the website of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, there has not been a single review or analysis of the Commission’s Findings, Observations and Recommendations on TOR No. F i.e. “to inquire into allegations of media-related corruption and suggest steps to ensure impartial and independent media for the upcoming elections”.
4. The Commission submitted a Report which the Hon’ble Court graciously described as “thorough” and directed the Election Commission of Pakistan to take note of the several Recommendations by the Commission for possible implementation, specifically by ECP.
5. Yet, except for brief, cursory references in news items of only a few, not all leading newspapers, to the above comments and directions by the Hon’ble Court, no report to convey the Recommendations to the public has been published to date by any newspaper or journal.
6. Between the placement of the text of the Report on the website of the Supreme Court on 17th April, 2013 for access by anyone interested in the subject and the conduct of polling on 11 the May 2013, there were over three weeks available to both print media and electronic media to study the eleven different modes/sectors in which the Commission’s Report made precise Recommendations. Suggestions for action by print media and electronic media, by the Government, by PEMRA, by civil society, by social media groups and by citizens at large were listed and explained. If media had acted on all or even some of the Recommendations pertaining to their own self-regulation and if media had brought the Recommendations in general made by the Commission to the attention of citizens, the aims sought to be achieved by TOR No.F could have been reasonably advanced.
7. The submission of the Report by the Commission to the Hon’ble Court on 21st March, 2013 was followed soon after by the disclosure of the names of recipients of secret funds given by the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting, a subject partly covered in Part-One of the Report. However, this aspect of disbursement of secret funds received brief yet disproportionately prominent coverage by media. It is hoped that after the submission of Part-Two of the Report and after the Hon’ble Court authorizes the release of Part-Two of the Report : media, academia, civil society, Parliament and Provincial Legislatures and Federal and Provincial Governments will afford some attention to the contents of both Part-One and Part-Two of the Report.
8. It is curious as to why neither print media nor electronic media have informed the public that the text of Part-One of the Report is available on the website of the Supreme Court? The Commission hopes that this omission is not due to the fact that several Recommendations call for introspection and corrective action by media themselves.
9. Notwithstanding the lack of interest cited above, the Commission believes that because the Recommendations in both Part-One and Part-Two, having been formulated after extensive consultation with all stakeholders and detailed deliberation by the Commission itself, address fundamental issues, they deserve immediate attention by all concerned and by those who presently occupy positions of authority, as also those who will become holders of public and private office in future times. Most importantly, the Recommendations represent an invitation to dialogue and action.
10. Seen in the context of both the nine Terms of Reference of the Commission and, inevitably, seen also in the larger totality of the national context of Pakistan’s polity, four categories of media in Pakistan in 2013 are operating in distinctly separate legal, policy and operational frameworks. The four categories of media are here.
11. In general, there are major discrepancies and variations between, and within the above four categories of media in terms of legislation, regulation and actual operation. While singularity of legislation or regulation for such a wide variety of media will remain elusive and perhaps impractical, there is certainly a need for greater coherence and clarity in the laws and policies that apply to all the above media.
12. In terms of regulation of media it is evident that there is regulation but that it suffers from numerous deficiencies. There is also miss-regulation. Regrettably, there is also a marked vacuum or complete absence of regulations. For instance, there is no legal framework for the professional regulation of the advertising sector. There is a need for legally mandated institutions such as an Advertising Council and an Advertising Standards Authority in view of the strong impact that advertising delivers on media content. There is also a need for legislation to validate and define self-regulation. Just as legislatures adopt Acts to grant charters to universities and educational institutions, there is a dire need for legislature to define the legal and social responsibility parameters within which self-regulation by media should be conducted.
13. If the nine TORs given to the Commission are seen to be primarily related to the role of public institutions and private organizations in the context of news media as separate from entertainment media or specialized-knowledge media it is pertinent to note that the advent of news media in print, but more so in TV channels in particular is marked by positive as well as some negative factors.