a. It is recommended that the ECP invite Chief Executives/Chairpersons/Proprietors of all TV channels and Radio channels to a meeting in Islamabad to convey directly to them in person ECP’s Code of Media Conduct for Elections 2013 and ECP’s Guidelines so that the senior-most decision-makers and policy-makers of private electronic media are informed about their personal responsibilities and their individual accountability for the content of electronic media during the formal Elections phase.
b. ECP should strictly enforce its own Codes, Rules, Guidelines etc. which should include definitions, parameters, amplifications etc.
c. ECP should engage the professional services of independent firms which normally monitor private electronic media on behalf of commercial advertisers, to report to ECP on a daily/weekly basis with regard to the broadcast of political advertising by parties and candidates with special reference as to whether the limits and principles prescribed by ECP are being observed. There are two or three such commercial firms which track/conduct monitoring of broadcast content for the information and benefit of advertisers and advertising agencies.
Note: As past experience has shown, in its regulatory capacity, PEMRA has been unable to ensure enforcement of Rules in general for more than one reason. For instance, the speed with which certain TV channels that received Notices from PEMRA obtained Stay Orders from High Courts which prevent PEMRA from applying necessary measures, as also due to PEMRA’s own omissions in respect of lack of timely and decisive actions.
This is why it would be pertinent and effective for ECP to take the required initiatives as above, with regard to electronic media. With regard to the use of the legal process by which PEMRA’s actions or omissions are challenged/delayed etc. the situation is as follows i.e. a total of 72 cases are pending, 70 of them in 2 High Courts, 1 in the Supreme Court, 1 in Muzaffarabad High Court.
45 cases are pending in the Sindh High Court, 20 in the Lahore High Court, 5 in the Islamabad High Court since 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 and the first weeks of 2013.
d. ECP should invite office-bearers of APNS and CPNE to a meeting with ECP in Islamabad to convey directly to them in person ECP’s Code of Media Conduct for Elections 2013 and ECP’s Guidelines so that the senior-most decision-makers and policy-makers of print media are informed about their personal responsibilities and their individual accountability for the content of print media during the formal Elections phase.
e. ECP should require APNS to provide a weekly report of space sold/used by its Member-Publications to publish advertisements for political parties and candidates along with details of the rates charged for such space.
f. ECP should use its own in-house monitoring system with the support of the Press Information Department/Ministry of Information and Broadcasting/Press Council of Pakistan, and the four Provincial Governments’ Information Departments to monitor whether print media are practicing their own Codes of Ethics and the Guidelines of ECP.
g. ECP should invite office-bearers of PFUJ, APNEC, PCEJ and other relevant bodies e.g. Electronic Media Journalists Association, Lahore etc. to convey directly to them in person ECP’s Code of Media Conduct for Elections 2013 and ECP’s Guidelines so that the working journalists in both print and electronic media are requested to practice their own Codes of Conduct and are informed about their personal responsibilities and their individual accountability for the content reported by them for projection by print and electronic media during the formal Elections phase.
One or more such meetings have reportedly already been held. ECP may wish to reinforce the process in case the Supreme Court accepts one or more of the Recommendations by the Media Commission concerning TOR No.F.
h. ECP may wish to consider a proposal to the effect that all candidates and political parties wishing to place advertising on a paid basis in newspapers, magazines, TV channels, Radio channels be mandatorily required to do so only through a specially-created Political Advertising Cell in ECP itself. This proposed Cell should have the power to decline booking or advertising in media if it exceeds the limits of expenditure prescribed by ECP. If such a proposal is accepted, ECP may use its own facilities to conduct such coordination work between candidates and media. Or ECP may requisition the already existing facilities and country-wide infrastructure for such coordination in the form of the Press Information Department of the Federal Ministry of Information and Broadcasting and the Information Departments of the four Provincial Governments.
Thus, all media would receive requests/orders for political advertising through this Cell in ECP and would, in turn, provide invoices to ECP to obtain payment for such advertising, in advance, or within the specified period.
Such a proposed Cell would ensure that ECP remains fully informed on the precise space/time being used for political advertising in mass media by candidates and parties and the exact charges being applied by print media and electronic media. Such co-ordination of information would ensure a level playing field for all parties and candidates and conform to the principles of complete transparency and accountability.
To ensure instant public knowledge of the identities of those firms or individuals responsible for creating/placing political advertising of a defamatory or offensive nature, it should be compulsory for all advertising in print media to include the name of the advertising agency or other organization connected with the placement of the said advertisement. Such public knowledge of alignments between candidates, political parties and commercial firms would strengthen the principle of transparency.
This proposed Cell-methodology would be superior to the conventional methods of obtaining expenditure statements from parties and candidates on a post-facto basis i.e. after the Elections. This proposed methodology would also prevent the malpractice of discriminatory rates for space and time that could be charged by media in favour of sonic parties and candidates and to the disadvantage of other parties and candidates, data about which ECP would normally remain un-informed because media, specially TV channels and radio channels can, and do vary their rates from time to time, and from client to client.
Even if PBA implements its laudable intention referred to earlier in their Report in Recommendation No.1 (h) to publicly share data about exact rates to be charged for political/normal advertising, this proposed routing of all political advertising on mass media through ECP would guarantee total transparency and a level playing field.