Pemra pulls the plug
WHERE self-regulation fails, the situation opens the door to outside attempts to steer the debate. Unfortunately, that seems to have happened with Pakistan’s electronic media industry, which has in recent times been increasingly in the cross hairs of Pemra, the electronic media regulator. On Friday, Pemra chairman Absar Alam said his organisation had pulled the plug on re-enactments of crime stories, monitoring teams having found several instances where the lines of acceptable programming had been transgressed. These, according to Pemra, include the provision of information about rape victims, forced entry into private premises, the overly graphic representation of rape and suicide, and several other examples. Reportedly, this ultimate step was taken after Pemra received complaints and the channels in question had repeatedly been sent notices, in some cases with the imposition of fines.
It is regrettable that matters have come to this pass, but few would deny that unethical practices have over the years been embedded in some quarters in the country’s electronic media output. Take, for example, the concern about forced entry into private premises, which is illegal in addition to being unethical journalism. It had become fairly common for viewers to watch media personnel swoop down on the premises to sniff out some alleged wrongdoing. Such an intrusion can only be undertaken by law-enforcement authorities, and then too under a fully fleshed-out procedure. Similarly, crime story re-enactments have been found to at times breach the requirements of dignity and good taste. That said, however, such decisions are ideally left to professional news editors; it is, therefore, up to media houses and their employees to drastically and evidentially improve standards of journalistic judgment so that Pemra is left with no excuse to become involved. Issues of a criminal nature are tricky to handle, and the regulatory authority may not be the best forum to play adjudicator. The delicate balancing act that the media must achieve is perfectly summed up by the situation that the drama serial Udaari finds itself in, the associated television channel being issued a notice for scenes implying child sexual abuse. The fact that this programme is part of advocacy against this rampant scourge, and that it was created/scripted with the thorough involvement of NGOs working on child rights, appears to have escaped Pemra’s attention. Such matters must be left to the professionals, but those professionals must also prove themselves worthy of trust.