Experts discuss pros and cons of media’s role in society

LAHORE: The participants of a ‘Roundtable Consultations on Supreme Court Media Commission Report’ critically reviewed nine major issues of mass media in Pakistani society in frame of SC terms of references (ToRs), with their written endorsement, rejection or modifications during careful review of the recommendations given in the report to deal with the issues.

The event was jointly organised by the Citizen Initiative on Media Issues (CIMI), Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) and Punjab University Institute of Communication Studies (ICS) at local hotel here on Wednesday.

SC Media Commission member and former information minister Javed Jabbar, renowned human rights activists Hussain Naqi, PU ICS In-charge Director Dr Noshina Saleem, Strengthening Participatory Approach (SPO) Punjab Director Salman Abid, FES Abdullah, mass communication faculty and a large number of journalism students were present in the event.

Javed Jabbar and the roundtable participants discussed in detail the positive as well negative contribution of media to the society. Among positive roles, they counted that breaking monopoly of state media, political activism, huge investment, employment generation, development communication on media, easy access to international news and sacrifice of their lives by journalists for the cause of access to information.

Later, he counted negative outcome of media to society, like recruitment of unprofessional people to media, control and influence of media contents by advertisers, weak rating system contributed by only 750 families showing unrepresentative sample. He also counted excessive commercialism, unethical discussions, hiding their assets by media owners, lack of self regulation system in media organisations and inability of PEMRA to get its regulations implemented.

Some members of the house opposed to a recommendation which mentions that PEMRA should allow NGOs to apply for community media channels, while arguing if such permission was granted the foreign funded NGOs may further pollute and misuse the media power for their vested interests.

Jabbar explained all ToRs in detail prior to the practical evaluation by participants consisting of a diverse range of media consumers.

Earlier, addressing the introductory session, Punjab University Institute of Communication Studies (ICS) In-charge Director Dr Noshina Saleem said, undoubtedly the mushroom growth of electronic media, where contributed positively for the growth of society also created many issues in the society, which need to be addressed.

“Today we are in the same position where the American society was in 1940 regarding media issues.” She said Pakistan was at the same turn of history today. The Supreme Court of Pakistan identified some problems relating to media regulations in a case titled as ‘Hamid Mir case’. Later a Media Commission was formed. This commission has submitted its recommendations.

She said, “Like reforms in the superior judiciary and its instant positive outcome in dispense of justice to the society, we are here for media reforms and effective utilisation of our media for the healthy growth of our society and the state to which the media is fourth pillar.”

With evaluation of 65 members of the consultations in Lahore the total number of the evaluators has reached to 800 as the media commission has already held similar consultations in seven other cities including Karachi, Islamabad, Peshawar and Multan, Jabbar said.

It is noteworthy that SC had appointed a two-member media commission comprising javed Jabbar and Justice Nasir Aslam Zahid. The commission after meeting with 166 individuals and 86 organisations submitted its two reports on March 21 and June 7 this year to the Supreme Court. The first part of the report was about how to conduct free and fair election ensuring unbiased reporting of media while the second part includes:

PU ICS assistant professor Dr Bushra Rehman pointed out the missing link between academic and media industry in the submitted recommendations by the media commission. She also opposed allowing PERMRA licenses to NGOs.

Interestingly, ICS students Mahrukh and Mahnoor questioned the funding to the media commission by the Information Ministry instead of the Supreme Court, raising an objection to the report’s impartiality. However, Javed Jabber replied that these minor expenditures were from the public exchequer for their hiring the services of two research assistants and travel expenditures to all parts of the country.

The nine ToRs include consideration of role of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting and other government agencies in ensuring freedom of print and electronic media consistent with Article 19 of the Constitution.

Another point states that analysing whether and to what extent PEMRA has been able to fulfill its developmental mandate and regulatory functions independently under the PEMRA Ordinance.

Ascertaining whether PTV, PBC and APP have independent in-house management and transparent policies and there are adequate checks against lop-sided or biased dissemination of information.

It also says consideration of the feasibility of letting the media adopt a self-regulatory code of conduct instead of content regulation, in the light of international standards and best practices. Another feature states that enquiring into allegations of media-related corruption and steps be suggested to ensure impartial and independent media for the upcoming elections.

Inquiring whether the government or its functionaries pursing a transparent, duly approved, bona fide advertisement allocation policy or the decisions to buy advertisement are without criteria. The eight point says that proposing a single, transparent, objective, non-discriminatory policy for allocation of government advertisements among electronic and print media.

The last point states determining if Federal and provincial governments adhere to PPRA rules or other transparent processes while granting advertisement contracts to advertising agencies or media houses.

Daily Times

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