Govt check on private media criticized
ISLAMABAD – Participants of a conference on December 6, criticized the check on media and held the government responsible for crippling it which they said destroyed the foundation of democracy and the check and balance system in the society.
The two-day conference on “Private media for a free and civil society” was organized by the Fried rich Naumann Stiftung (FNSt) and the Liberal Forum Pakistan to discuss the future of private media in the country.
The participants criticized the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) for its stringent rules due to which the private media had been refrained from presenting the true picture of events or highlight corruption in the corridors of power and institutions.
Resident Representative of FNSt Peter-Andreas Bochmann highlighted the hurdles in way of free media in Pakistan, including red-tape in setting up stations. He also criticized regulation of the programme contents being aired by the media houses. Private radio stations, he said, were not allowed to broadcast and private radio entrepreneurs were regularly picked up by the law-enforcement agencies.
To enable media to play its due role in facilitating economic freedom, democracy and strengthen a free civil society, he said, media houses should be free to interview individuals be they were exiled politicians or any other.
Private investment, he said, should be encouraged in this sector and procedures for setting up and operating stations should be made simple. Media houses, Mr Bochmann said, should be free to broadcast programmes on current affairs and must be free from all sorts of coercion in their work.
Gulmeena Bilal, the FNSt project coordinator, said when Gen Ayub Khan was inaugurating the first PTV station on November 26, 1964 in Lahore, he had said the TV and media must bring about national integration. Gen Ayub, she said, had not talked about the freedom of press or access to information or check and balance in the society.
The general, she maintained, wanted a state-run media that’s why the press remained in constant chains throughout the history of Pakistan. Many brilliant journalists said goodbye to the profession, others were put behind the bars and many were tortured. The tales of state censorship in Zia’s era and the harassment of journalists, she said, were still fresh in the minds of masses.
Minister of State for Media and Broadcasting Aneesa Zeb, who was the chief guest on the occasion, was not able to properly defend the government policies when the participants asked her whether the media was free and whether the much-trumpeted launching of a good number of private media channels were able to present a more realistic picture of events or not.
Ms Zeb, who confessed that media in Pakistan had a long way to go to exercise the same freedom being enjoyed by their counterparts in the developed countries, attributed the lack of free media to the international scenario since independence.
The government, she said, was doing its best to provide a suitable environment to the media so that it could work freely. She said the Pemra Ordinance was being presented before the National Assembly for debate.