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An extensive list of proposals by the media commission

KARACHI: The launch of the media commission’s report at a local hotel here on Tuesday assumed considerable significance particularly due to the current debate over the stand-off between a media group and the intelligence services and an intense competition among various media groups to outdo each other in the ratings war.

The report was introduced by Javed Jabbar who began the presentation by delving into the reasons for the origins of the commission. “In January 2013 Hamid Mir and Absar Alam filed petitions in the apex court in which they wanted the court to look into the allegations of being beneficiaries of secret funds doled out by information ministry. Subsequently a commission was formed by the Supreme Court to review major points of concern in mass media against the terms of references (ToRs) formulated by the Court.”

According to Mr Jabbar, he and other members of the commission such as Salim Shaikh, former federal secretary and Afia Salam, media researcher, met 66 individuals from the media fraternity across the country to elicit their views and finally came up with an exhaustive list of recommendations. These were then presented to the National Assembly’s standing committee on information, broadcasting and heritage which agreed to most of their proposals and actions.

Should the ministry of information be abolished altogether or should it continue as it is was the first ToR that Mr Jabbar shared with the well-attended audience. “We looked at nearly 52 Muslim countries and found that they had an information ministry, they may be misusing it but they had not abolished it. Then we looked at India, where the ministry’s mandate is much larger.” In other words, there should be a major restructuring of the information ministry, according to Mr Jabbar.

He also pointed out that with every medium now virtually present in one’s hand in the form of smartphones, there has to be a regulatory body that is cognizant of these fast-changing technologies.

Another ToR that the report looked into was the judiciary’s role chiefly in granting stay orders and their extended duration beyond their stipulated time. “Currently, there are 281 stay orders obtained by TV and radio against Pemra that are pending in the court. The duration for a stay order is 15 days but these stay orders continue for years,” he said. On the other hand, there are channels who haven’t obtained licences and operate freely, added Mr Jabbar.

Other suggestions included changing state entities such as PTV, PBC and APP into public service entities, funding for Press Council to be shared by the public and media group owners, and rationalising of placement of government advertising in print and electronic media.

Finally, Mr Jabbar said that the commission hoped this will stimulate action among the stakeholders comprising federal and provincial governments, advertisers, judiciary, regulatory bodies and civil society.

Retired Justice Nasir Aslam Zahid came to the podium and initially addressed the issue of stay orders but then shifted the focus of his speech to the difficulties faced by the members of the judiciary. “It is important to have a competent advocate who can then address the issue of stay orders. Nearly 100 cases are fixed everyday for a judge and sometimes it takes nearly the whole day to hear two cases. Sometimes, as one studies the list of cases that are to appear the next day, there will be a case that is interesting and one makes the effort of researching it. But the next day when the judge comes to the court, he will find out that the advocate is not there either because he is ill or he has to attend some funeral in Islamabad.” Coming back to the subject of stay orders he said that it should not last for more than two months.

Earlier, Pemra’s role was criticised for not satisfactorily addressing the concerns of media to which Dr Seemi Tahir, a professor at the mass communications department of Federal Urdu Arts and Sciences University, responded that she worked for Pemra for eight years and she and her colleagues were committed to press freedom and were cautious and vigilant while framing the policies under Pemra.