Of Media and Media Laws in Pakistan | Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

Of Media and Media Laws in Pakistan

Pakistan Press Foundation

Yasmeen Aftab Ali is an acclaimed political writer contributing regularly to different local and foreign journals. She has distinguished herself in the fields of mass communications and law. She has been associated with The Beaconhouse National University, Lahore as an academic since 2004 besides teaching Advertising at Kinnaird College, Lahore for a couple of years as visiting faculty.

Renowned mass communications academic and political analyst Dr. Mehdi Hasan has written the foreword to the book in which he observes that ‘the present age can rightly be called the age of Communication Revolution’. The mass media now includes television, film, video broadcasting, Facebook, YouTube and other social media. The ongoing communication boom has marginalized the so-called ‘culture of Iron Curtain’. Whereas the emergence of private TV channels has accelerated and streamlined the flow of information from different sources to the viewers, it has also given rise to problems and controversies which could be directly attributed to the phenomenon of media activism, electronic media being at the top the list.

The present book purports to be an authentic compendium of media related issues such as concepts, benchmark cases, and relevant laws, viewed in the context of the prevailing situation in the country. The author has also focused the problems relating to the social responsibility of media in Pakistan. Thus the book ‘moves beyond discussing concepts to what issues exist in the world of communications in Pakistan’, and also seeks to tackle ‘the questions that need to be addressed by relevant authorities in different mediums of communication’, and offer their possible solutions.

The book comprises nine chapters dealing with the concept of freedom of expression in both universal and topical contexts, involving issues like contempt of court, defamation, cyber law, psychological warfare and propaganda, electronic media, social media, and the social responsibility of media. In the introduction to her work, the writer has ventured to present a cursory review of the history of press in Pakistan with specific reference to the years 1822, 1947, 1950, 1957, 1959, 1961, 1964, 1970, 1974, 1977, and 1988 which constitute some crucial landmarks in the eventual development of the concept and practice of the paradigm of freedom of expression and speech through the medium of press. She has also highlighted the role of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists in torch-bearing the movement of the freedom of press vicariously symbolizing the sanctity attached to the concept of freedom of expression and speech.

Freedom of expression is a guaranteed right but its unbridled exercise is restrained by certain limitations. Hate speech, defamation, slander, libel, incitement to offence, obscenity, copyrights and patents, treason, and profanity are some inevitable bars on the unchecked exercise of freedom of expression in a civilized society.

Freedom of expression is a guaranteed right but its unbridled exercise is restrained by certain limitations. Hate speech, defamation, slander, libel, incitement to offence, obscenity, copyrights and patents, treason, and profanity are some inevitable bars on the unchecked exercise of freedom of expression in a civilized society. Democracy, self-governance, discovering the truth, marketing ideas, promoting tolerance, and sustaining autonomy form a theoretical base for a genuine exercise of the freedom of expression in a given socio-cultural milieu.

Freedom of the press came to be recognized as an explicit right in the Constitution of 1973 which implies that ‘press not directed by the executive is free from all direction and all pressures’. The relevance of democracy to the freedom of expression and speech can hardly be gainsaid. ‘Democracy and freedom of expression are two sides to a coin. One cannot exist without the other.’ The Constitution of Pakistan guarantees the right of freedom of expression and speech coupled with that of the press with some judicious exceptions.

In the succeeding chapters, the author has elaborately discussed the subjects of contempt of court, defamation, cyber law, and psychological warfare and propaganda in relation to the concept of freedom of expression and speech. The chapters on electronic media and social media pinpoint the problems in these domains and their possible solutions. Analyzing the current problems in electronic media, the author pronounces thus:

‘High level of inaccuracies is one. Untrained staff and focus on being the first to report and not necessarily the most accurate or truthful has created credibility issues. In target killings, or/and accidents, different channels often report wildly different numbers. Sensationalism is another issue. There is a strong tendency by the media to reflect and keep on reflecting, thereby sensationalizing issues, till something juicier comes along, on murders, kidnappings, rapes. Showing the relatives of the victims beating their chest, crying, wailing. This kind of news are sought and covered, not because of the national importance but because it is thought, it will attract better viewership. Poor coverage of important issues is another. Converting non-issues into issues unfortunately, happens.’

‘High level of inaccuracies is one. Untrained staff and focus on being the first to report and not necessarily the most accurate or truthful has created credibility issues. In target killings, or/and accidents, different channels often report wildly different numbers. Sensationalism is another issue. There is a strong tendency by the media to reflect and keep on reflecting, thereby sensationalising issues, till something juicier comes along, on murders, kidnappings, rapes. Showing the relatives of the victims beating their chest, crying, wailing. This kind of news are sought and covered, not because of the national importance but because it is thought, it will attract better viewership. Poor coverage of important issues is another. Converting non-issues into issues unfortunately, happens’.
Quest for truth is supposed to be the ultimate objective of all human endeavour. Problems (and credibility of the media is the crux of them) shoot up when truth is considered not absolute but relative.

To redress the situation, the writer has suggested certain solutions too:

1. Media houses may get their editorial policies approved by PEMRA.

2. Any anchor violating the approved policy may be banned for at least a period of three years.

3. Hefty fines may be imposed on channels found deviating from the stated policy.

4. Anchors must be allowed to moderate those programmes on subjects in which they have a strong background.

5. Staff should be trained by media houses in line with the guidelines issued by PEMRA from time to time.

6. Experts of different fields must be invited on subject programmes as guests to allow emergence of balanced and well-informed public opinion.

Social media has facilitated internet communication between people on the global level. It is an online collection of views, opinions, insights, experiences, perspectives, and profiles. Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn etc. are some such platforms for interaction and networking. At times they are vulnerable to false information, blackmail, and ‘emotional dislocation’. Social media, it is said, make social movements possible. Libya, Egypt, and Tunisia are examples in point.

In today’s world scenario the role of media as a ‘gate-keeper’ has assumed great importance as nations around the world do willingly accept the theory of social responsibility of media. Out of the four leading theories of press/media viz., authoritarian, libertarian, social responsibility, and Soviet media, most of the countries in the preceding as well as present century subscribe to the social responsibility theory. ‘Without the media realizing its first and last responsibility lies to the society, it defeats the purpose of its very creation.’ The irony is that few people in the business would care to ascertain as to ‘where does the buck stop?’

Book
A Comparative Study of Media & Media Laws in Pakistan
Author: Yasmeen Aftab Ali
Publisher: Sang-e-Meel Publications, Lahore
Pages: 312; Price: Rs1200/-

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