Editorial: Ensuring media freedom
THE problem with Pemra pre-dates the infamous ordinance promulgated ten weeks ago. Even the original Pemra Ordinance of 2002 gave the federal government sweeping powers to dictate policy, despite the regulatory authority’s status as an independent body.
The government’s control over the regulator was tightened further under the Pemra Act 2007, which increased the number of public-sector members and allowed delegation of power to grant or revoke licences.
Then, on May 29 this year, the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority was brought under the administrative control of the information ministry – a move that put paid to any remaining pretence regarding Pemra’s independence.
The driving force behind this and other retrogressive moves was the desire to suppress coverage of the activities of the then ‘non-functional’ Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
However, the most brazen curb came on June 4 with the promulgation of the Pemra (Amendment) Ordinance, a draconian law that allows the regulators to seize equipment and seal the offices of offending TV channels almost at will.
Although the ordinance was later suspended, it is yet to be officially withdrawn. On Thursday, the opposition’s demand that the ordinance be tabled and discussed in the Senate was rejected by the chairman of the Upper House.
For its part, the government claimed that negotiations with media representatives were going on, and as such there was no need to table the ordinance which would most likely be withdrawn at an “appropriate” time. There would have been no harm, however, in allowing the debate to take place.
The government should also withdraw the ordinance immediately so as to dispel any impression that it is being used to pressure the broadcasters into framing a code of conduct favourable to the authorities.
The Pakistan Broadcasters Association has already proposed a code under which gory scenes will not be telecast and ‘live’ coverage will come with a brief time delay.
This is a welcome development and the PBA should see it through to its logical end, for violations of the code will only invite censorship.
At the same time, Pemra must function as a truly independent regulatory authority rather than as a tool for bullying the electronic media.