Pemra chief empowered to take TV channels off air
ISLAMABAD: The chairman of the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) has assumed powers to stop any channel from broadcasting for a limited period of time.
The Pemra board granted these powers to Chairman Absar Alam after they were told that the regulator had failed to implement its code of conduct over ‘re-enactment programmes’ due to bureaucratic hurdles.
Re-enactment shows, as they are popularly known, contain dramatisation of real-life stories, mainly dealing with incidents of crime, which could also include interviews of people involved in the crime.
However, leading activists termed the move a threat to media freedom.
“This is not a good idea because the concentration of power is always harmful,” said I. A. Rehman, a former head of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.
He agreed that there was a need for improvement, but said “there is no emergency to control the media over such issues. Besides, there will not be time for the channel to appeal the decision”.
At a recent meeting, the Pemra board was informed that despite being served several notices and imposition of fines, crime shows with vulgar language and adult content continued to be aired on almost all news channels.
Then the board decided to authorise the chairman to shut down any channel and suspend broadcast of such programmes.
But critics say the move amounts to making one person in charge of the electronic media industry and it could severely hurt transparency of its actions.
“If everything has to be decided by the chairman only, then there is no need to have a board,” said Advocate Ashraf Gujjar, a former Pemra board member who recently resigned from his post. “The law says [the decision to stop a channel’s broadcast] will be taken by the authority, and not by the chairman alone.”
He claimed that he resigned because of differences with the chairman and board members as they were “taking decisions in violation of rules”.
PEMRA DEFENDS DECISION: On the other hand, Pemra said the decision had been taken to speed up the process of penalising those channels which were showing “indecent content and violating the norms”.
“Discussing the menace of re-enactment programmes, crime shows and intrusion into public privacy along with the police and TV cameras, the authority resolved that no such programme shall be tolerated which are against the code of ethics, orders of the superior court and socio-cultural values of the society,” a Pemra spokesman said in a statement.
However, it will only become clear after the minutes of the board meeting are finalised whether the powers extended to the chairman are limited to re-enactment programmes alone, or if they could be extended to talk shows, news programmes, live coverage and even news tickers.
Another former member of the authority cited instances where the Pemra board was divided over the shutdown of a channel based on a complaint by the ministry of defence.
“We saw this at that time and there are chances that the minutes of the meetings will be different from the actual content of the discussion,” he said.
Pemra had previously instructed channels to air shows with adult themes between 11pm and 4am only.
Attempts to contact Pemra chairman for comment failed.