‘Electronic media should be managed by neutral body’
The electronic media in Pakistan should be managed by an independent body comprising, journalists, academics and intellectuals rather than police officers or bureaucrats to make the realm of the media more tolerant and democratic.
These views were expressed by Dr Tauseef Ahmed of the Mass Communications Department, University of Karachi, at a seminar, “Electronic media in Pakistan: challenges and issues”, held at the Shaheed Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto Institute of Science and Technology (SZABIST) on Thursday afternoon to mark International Press Freedom Day.
He traced the history of the controlled press in Pakistan back to the East India Company era. He said that after the creation of Pakistan there came the US-Soviet Cold War and Pakistan having had the unenviable distinction of being the most loyal ally of the US had to pander to the ideological whims of the US and impose control and censorship so as not to hurt the interests of the bigger ally.
He was of the view that Article 98 of the constitution needed to be revisited. “Only just and equitable laws respecting the feelings of the individual can sustain democracy.”
Noted print and television journalist Mazhar Abbas lamented the lack of training in the country’s television channels. In this case, he cited the example of a programme on a private TV channel wherein two political personalities had a highly emotionally charged dialogue and the host being absolutely untrained in the realm of the electronic media just could not control the situation and the dialogue turned into a nasty slanging match.
He said that an ex-IGP who was the first chief of Pemra controlled the content of the programmes through the police stations and the local police station people, given their authoritarian mindsets, just imposed control in accordance with their whims and fancies.
He recalled the year 2007 when, on account of some very unsavoury events in the country, all channels were put off air. There were forces, he said, which were above the law that determined things.
Pemra and the requisite ministry are absolutely powerless in the face of these elements, he said and cited an example from the PTV era showing an actress who just woke up from her sleep. He said the authorities concerned took up issue with her as to why she didn’t have her head covered with a Dupatta when she woke up.
Noted columnist Ghazi Salahuddin said that press freedom was imperative to democracy. The press, he said, had to function as a watchdog. “Freedom of the press is freedom of society. The newspaper is a nation talking to itself,” he said.
He lamented that the electronic channels, on their part, had promoted irrationality and bigotry which had erased the spirit of free enquiry. He said he had been a journalist during the Zia years and he could say on authority that things were not as bad then. “We did fear being sent to jail but we never feared being picked up in the middle of the night and whisked away to undisclosed destinations, the way it is today,” he said.
Lahore-base journalist Imtiaz Alam, addressing the seminar by video link, lamented the authoritarian practices of the rulers and suppression of dissent by journalists. This, he said, was an absolute antithesis to democracy.
Earlier, Dr Riaz Shaikh, head, Department of Social Sciences, SZABIST, welcoming the guests, explained the setting aside of the day to mark international press freedom (or, the lack of it) in 2003.