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Self-regulation by media organizations, media proprietors, journalists, practitioners for Elections 2013

Through self-regulation by media organizations themselves, by individual media proprietors, journalists, practitioners:

a. The following representative bodies/organizations/corporations should be advised by the Election Commission of Pakistan to refine, practice and enforce their own existing Codes of Ethics:

b. Either in part, or in whole, the Codes listed below include sections that are relevant to the roles of journalists, columnists, TV anchors, editors, news directors, programme producers, publishers and proprietors of print and broadcast media during elections as well.

For example, placed below are some excerpts from:

The Code of Ethics of the Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors (CPNE)

The Code of Ethics of the Pakistan Broadcasters’ Association (PBA)

1. Where individuals or groups are singled out for criticism, the programme should provide reasonable opportunity for a balancing response.

2. All efforts must be made by broadcasters and talk show moderators to correct error of fact at the earliest opportunity and to ensure that corrections brought expressly to their notice are broadcast to public.

The Code of Ethics of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ)

1. Whether [by] publication or suppression, the acceptance of a bribe by a journalist is one of the gravest professional offences.

2. (a member of PFUJ) should not falsify information or documents, or distort or misrepresent facts.

3. Even in the case of Advertisers and Advertising Agencies, it would be relevant for the Member-organizations of these two sectors to ensure that the contents of any advertising supported or sponsored, created or placed by them adheres to their own Codes with special reference to Elections2013 and to ECP’s guidelines.

The Code of Ethics of the Advertising Association of Pakistan (AAP)

3. To ensure that all advertising produced by its member agencies is legal, decent, honest and truthful.

4. To benefit the nation by harnessing advertising for the good of the country, its institutions, its citizens; to co-operate with the Government in promoting its social objectives and in the tasks of nation building.

5. Codes of Conduct which already exist are, broadly speaking, very appropriate and positive frameworks that define minimal norms and high ideals. However, in the past as well as in the present times, the enforcement dimension of these Codes has been either too weak to be effective. Or there has been no enforcement when violations have occurred. Neither media themselves nor their respective representative bodies nor the official regulatory bodies have taken firm, fair and prompt actions when they needed to be taken.

6. During Elections in particular, it is important to protect freedom of expression but at the same time, through decisive and timely action, prevent misuse of freedom that is unfair to particular political parties or candidates.

The Commission welcomes the initiatives already taken by some of the above organizations and forums to formulate and formally adopts Codes of Ethics and Conduct specifically for application in Elections 2013.

7. The Commission suggests that, to supplement and strengthen such collective efforts and others such as by the Pakistan Broadcasters Association in the process of self-regulation, each TV channel and each FM Radio channel should establish an “Internal Ombudsman” to enable the receipt of cases and complaints from the public at large, or by other associations, in order to facilitate timely internal scrutiny and corrective action. To make such an Internal Ombudsman in each channel effective, announcements about this mechanism being made available especially with the commencement of the formal elections phase should be broadcast at least once every 24 hours in a reasonable duration and manner so that the public is duly informed of this facility and of how to convey complaints or observations for the consideration of the Internal Ombudsman.

8. Similarly, for the Elections phase in particular and on a permanent long-term basis as well, each newspaper should establish an Internal Ombudsman along the same lines i.e. with the publication of an announcement to inform readers of the introduction of this facility along with contact details. One newspaper i.e. The Express Tribune did introduce its own Internal Ombudsman. The distinguished present Chief Election Commissioner lent his reputed name to this office by accepting to serve as this newspaper’s Ombudsman. But the arrangement no longer exists, presumably because the Ombudsman accepted the high office of the Chief Election Commissioner in 2012.In varying forms e.g. an Ombudsman, a Readers’, Editor, etc. the office of Internal Ombudsman does exist in several newspapers in Europe, Asia (India) and elsewhere.

Note: It is necessary to record the obvious requirement that any person appointed to serve as an Internal Ombudsman in a TV channel, Radio channel or in a newspaper should be an individual of acknowledged/public stature who has the reputation and capacity to render an opinion on a complaint without being influenced by any consideration except for the facts and the truth.

9. With regard to the self-regulation applied to the advertising dimension of electronic media content, it is strongly recommended that it is vital to ensure a level playing field during the Elections phase in respect of fair and equal costs charged by TV channels and Radio channels to different political parties and candidates. This aspect is important because, to date, there is no public sharing of information by Radio channels and TV channels about the precise rates at which they sell their time to advertisers. Each channel determines its own rates on the basis of various business considerations.

As in normal times, but more so in the Elections phase, complete transparency of such data is a prerequisite to ensure that all parties and candidates that can afford to invest amounts in advertising have a fair and equal opportunity to purchase time in electronic media.

The Commission noted with pleasure that the office-holders of the Pakistan Broadcasters’ Association themselves proposed and endorsed the concept of placing on the website of PBA the exact rates to be charged by each channel for different durations of advertising spots and for different types of content that can be aired on a commercial basis, as is the commendable practice in some other countries.

The Commission recommends that this measure be implemented with immediate effect.

i. Detailed reference should also be made by all self-regulatory organizations in Pakistan to internationally-recommended guidelines and values as appended below, from reputed foreign/global institutions and from individual countries such as Britain. These overseas sources offer detailed measures and suggestions based on extensive experience of the inter-action between media and elections.

j. By a fortuitous coincidence, one of the most respected global public broadcasters i.e. the BBC, has approved, as recently as 7th March, 2013 a document titled: “Election Guidelines for May 2013″ to cover local government elections in England and Wales on 2” May, 2013. These Guidelines are an extremely timely and pertinent point of reference for electronic media in Pakistan and for review by the Election Commission of Pakistan.

Codes of Ethics/Conduct of the following bodies are placed at Annexure “C”:

1. All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS)
2. Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors (CPNE)
3. Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ)
4. Pakistan Television Corporation (PTV)
5. Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation (PBC)
6. Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA)
7. Pakistan Broadcasters’ Association (PBA)
8. Press Council of Pakistan (PCP)
9. Pakistan Coalition for Ethical Journalism (PCEJ)
10. Pakistan Advertisers’ Society (PAS)
11. Advertising Association of Pakistan (AAP).
12. Reporting Elections: Broadcast Guidelines (by Article 19, Index, Reuter Foundation, UNESCO).
13. Great Britain’s Electoral Commission’s Media Handbook.
14. BBC’s Electoral Values
15. BBC’s Election Guidelines for May 2013.

Note: While the long-established news agencies such as the Government-controlled APP and the privately-owned, partially publicly-funded PPI have their own internal Codes, other news agencies established in recent years are also obliged to practice professional principles. Similarly, “media buying” houses, a new kind of private entity which purchases media time and space in bulk for one or more clients are also bound by their respective internal corporate codes of ethical conduct.

The Cable TV Operators Association of Pakistan is also obligated by its stated aims and objects to abide by the law, rules and norms.