Changing media challenges – social media: the newest kid around the block
The walk towards a freer media, a more multidimensional media has not been free of thorns. With the barriers of communication down globally, news travels like lightening. The responsibility of media has increased manifold. There are times media has succeeded in being responsible. There are times it has been horribly irresponsible.
Television broke the shackles of state ownership when Musharraf allowed TV ownership to go private. And boy! What a riot it was. Untrained anchors, ill-informed on topics chosen to debate upon with equally ill-informed ‘experts’, it had the viewers enthralled with screaming matches between the experts with anchor ‘trying’ to stop them but each time failing. Business is after all business. Ratings determine not just popularity but also the pull of advertisements. The rules of PEMRA Ordinance 2002 were lame. There were no rules relating to content, to checking upon the background of individual applying for license, or any fine, if the owner failed to pay their employees on time. So far as ownership was concerned, it single-mindedly focused on availability of resources with applicant to be able to buy the latest technology. Neither was there any attention to what extent cross ownership of media will be allowed. Besides what clout it can become.
It became a rat race. With a fast growing industry, with no training to those involved at different positions. The outcome was predictable. Chaos as half-baked opinions proliferated ruled the roost. In 2007, realizing that the rules of 2002 were simply inadequate to deal with the situation, an Amendment to the PEMRA Ordinance was introduced that was as inadequate and poorly drafted as its predecessor. Not focusing on the loopholes of Ordinance 2002. One of the few concession were made relating to content by cut paste of Article 19 Constitution of Pakistan 1973 in PEMRA Amendment 2007. Larry Tesler, the creator of copy and paste command would have been over joyed had he come to know of this added piece of ingenuity.
The level of professionalism can be analyzed by one example alone. “In most cases, barring major cities of Lahore, Karachi, Pindi/Islamabad and maybe a few others TV channels do not have any reporters/correspondents. The channels hire people. They are unpaid workers of the channel, who volunteer to report on events for their area. Imagine the nuisance value and the niche the ‘reporter’ creates for himself. With no training, no knowledge of how things are to be reported. Issues can be misreported, exaggerated, and incorrect factually. A non-issue can be made into an issue, and an issue, a non-issue.” (Dr Mehdi Hasan former Dean of SMC BeaconHouse National University in: A Comparative Analysis of Media & Media Laws in Pakistan. Pg. 239)
Pakistan already has cybercrime law, blasphemy law, defamation law, and incitement to violence, so on and so forth. These do not exclude social media from the ambit
Anchor persons are powerful opinion makers. They have a role to play. That in many cases one may find missing. The rush to be the first to report before checking up on facts: one example is differences in figures and facts in target killings. The kind of exposure shown of dead bodies is heartless. Failure to award a certain portion to global/international issues and on-going issues while glued to local issues only simply ignores the impact global and regional alliances have on the national issues as well. This is a missing jigsaw puzzle that makes an intelligent viewer crave for a better perspective.
Compared to the electronic media, is the print media. Whereas the electronic media is in its nascent stage, print media played a pivotal role in galvanizing Muslims in the creation of Pakistan. ‘The history of the press in the sub-continent goes back to more than 235 years. After independence, Pakistan inherited the legacy of all the British Colonial Laws, including arrangements for controlling and monitoring the institution of Press, which had developed till then into an important vehicle of public opinion and information.’
Print medium has suffered many efforts to muzzle the sound of dissenting opinion. In form of PPL taken over by the state in 1959, to APP facing the same fate in 1961 to promulgation of PPO (Press Promulgation Order) in 1961. Birth of NPT (National Press Trust) in 1964 placing many magazines and newspapers under its flagship. The struggle of press under the auspices of PFUJ has been long and arduous. PFUJ grew up facing odds-never once giving up! Whether it was the hunger strike led by PPL (Pakistan Times and Imroze), the historic 10 day country wide strike for implantation of interim award by Wage Board in April 1970 and so on; PFUJ when political parties were in fledgling state, took over the task and duties of political parties.
Today, the print media faces a challenge of fading reading habits. A more serious discourse. Serious reading is being replaced by TV show viewership and by scanning the net. Newspapers and magazines are no longer the main source of awareness of current affairs. The new lot coming in as reporters and opinion piece writers except in some cases cannot hold a candle to the older breed. One example is the sad demise of Newslinemagazine recently. The papers surviving are mostly those whose owners have cross media ownership and able to support a low margin of profit.
Social media is the newest kid around the block. The kid that is growing fast enough to make the government to sit up and take notice. The same vehicle it used to ride their way to success is now a trouble with its criticism on poor governance. The government rushed into creating a set of regulations for social media. Not only the suggested regulation (Now approved by Cabinet Committee for Disposal of Legislative Cases (CCLC) under the title of “Removal and Blocking of Unlawful Content (Procedure, Oversight and Safeguards) Rules, 2020”),expands upon Article 19 of the Constitution of Pakistan 1973, it does the same with Pakistan Telecommunication (Re-organization) Act, 1996 and the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2016. Parent Acts both. Article 19 Constitution of Pakistan allows freedom of expression while placing reasonable limitations: “interest of the glory of Islam or the integrity, security or defense of Pakistan or any part thereof, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court.” Larry Tesler must be wringing his hands in joy at the cut paste used by the new rules.
The new regulations states; nothing must be allowed to “negatively affects religious, cultural, ethical sensitivities of Pakistan; impersonates another person; threatens the integrity, security or defense of Pakistan; or causes incitement.” Could not agree more over here as legally this expands upon & includes all religions &all sects. Sensitivities of all must be taken in count.
However, even if there is a reason to contain some if the authorities so think (even rightly in some cases) being on social media and posting against national interests and they feel certain elements have used social media for their propaganda, and/ or spreading fake news and so on, there already exists laws that address the issues of social media. Pakistan already has cybercrime law, blasphemy law, defamation law, and incitement to violence, so on and so forth. These do not exclude social media from the ambit.
Like the famous theme line of Virginia Slims; ‘You’ve come a long way Baby,” the media in Pakistan too, has come a long way. Though not necessary is a very professional direction. The same may be said about the checking authorities.
Op-ed by: Yasmeen Aftab Ali
Website: Daily Times