Geo/Jang Group moves SC to form independent commission
ISLAMABAD: Geo Network and Jang Group will file a petition today in the Supreme Court which asks for an independent commission to investigate the allegations against the media as well as undue sources of influence on freedom of speech by Pemra and Information Ministry.
The petition says the judiciary and media have been doing work against the main malaise in society, that of corruption, financial and moral. There is a campaign going on to malign and reduce the credibility of both, by status quo agents who do not want a change.
The petition gives reference to lists circulating on the net that include names of anchors who have allegedly taken funds for influencing editorial policy. Though Geo Network and Jang Group do not believe these to be true, as no one has admitted the source, but it is admitted that black sheep exist in every society and industry. Identifying them is a service to the public and the industry, and the Supreme Court is requested to help by making an independent commission that will investigate these allegations and identify the black sheep and or
expose the allegations as a conspiracy against the media.
The public interest petition also states: “We believe that at times the public’s right to know is reduced and damaged using the publics own funds. Government advertising is used to reward and punish the media, and recently leaked footage of a planted interview indicate there are people involved in the media along with the government to target the reputation of the judiciary. We believe that if investigated properly by independent experts, the truth will come out which media organisations has gotten more than its fair share of government advertisement. These government advertisement funds (estimated to be Rs800-1000 crore) for the election year are also used to illegally fund party advertising campaigns through corrupt advertising agencies”.
The independent commission is to ascertain which media organisation has received advertisements more than its fair market share, as a reward, and which has gotten less from its fair market share as a punishment. It has also been requested that parliament may be directed to formulate government advertisement law (currently print media rules are outdated and not monitored independently, and for TV, one does not exist) and get this law implemented in such a way that freedom of speech is not being influenced. Also, there is concern from a big section of the media that some of the mechanisms used to ascertain the ratings of a TV channel and circulation of newspaper are not tamper-proof and maybe under influence. The commission should ascertain the level of compromise if any and supervise an independent audit of the mechanism used.
The Supreme Court is also requested to set up an independent commission to appoint an independent auditor to audit implementation of Pemra rules and regulations, and to report back to the court on violations and discriminatory conduct of Pemra in relation to its licensees. It is alleged that Pemra puts undue pressures on cable operators and channels using selective implementation of rules and thus harms independence and freedom of speech. Prayers also include that the independent commission is to investigate if secret funds exist for the media by the Information Ministry, Pemra or any security agencies and to report the data to the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court is also requested to demand from the Information Ministry information regarding funds used on journalists for tours and plots in the last five years and based on which written policy and has recommend to ban this policy. The Supreme Court is also requested to order to amend the Freedom of Information Act to make it useful for investigative journalists to obtain necessary information from government departments legally for their stories as too many investigative stories are a result of leaks due to lack of information available to journalists otherwise.
The Supreme Court has been informed that governments also uses secret funds in the establishment and Information Ministry on journalists and media owners as well as plots and foreign tours to influence editorial policy, and has requested that all relevant data is also scrutinised by an independent commission and recommendations made for future policy making.
The petition is being filed by through Akram Sheikh, senior advocate Supreme Court, and Ahmed and Qazi Advocates, and states: “We do not have faith in the government, Pemra and Information Ministry as they have shown bias and favouritism through every government and therefore are requesting the Supreme Court to constitute an independent commission to ascertain the facts for an independent commission, which also can use independent auditors”.
Geo Network and Jang Group have also asked the Supreme Court to recommend if in order to protect independence of media it should be mandated to declare assets of owners of media, and hosts, anchors and reporters. “If the Supreme Court feels it in the best interest to do so, we will gladly declare and make it a policy for our media company and encourage others to follow.”