Need stressed for legislation to ensure protection of journalists
Karachi: A mechanism is needed to ensure that laws pertaining to the working of the press are implemented without fear or favour, without being selective, to the satisfaction of the media, the public, and the administrative machinery.
This was the consensus among speakers at a panel discussion on the media law, sponsored by the US consulate-general, Karachi, at a local hotel on Saturday afternoon.
Zahid Ebrahim, advocate of the Supreme Court and an expert on the media law, acknowledged that the media was really powerful but the journalists, he said, were as vulnerable.
This power of the media, he said, was acknowledged even by those who battled it. Even a dictator as strong as Pervez Musharraf was downed by the media, yet the journalists were so vulnerable, he added.
This was because, in his opinion, journalists were threatened by powerful, clandestine militant groups. He said it was the dire need of the hour to frame laws that would ensure the security of the working journalists as real power came with security. He did not quite favour organisations like Pemra as, he thought, they comprised bureaucrats who, while being very good at passing orders, did not have a grasp over the ground realities. What, he said, worked was self-regulation and a voluntary code of conduct.
He also favoured the institution of the office of the press ombudsman, since, according to him, self-regulation had limits too. He said that there was a need for an independent media commission where the government should just provide the backbone, the skeletal structure, and the rest should be left to the commission. It should have the ability to enforce decisions and formulate a code of ethics.
A noted columnist and member of the editorial board of the Jang Group, Ghazi Salahuddin, while not exactly pessimistic in his approach, was somewhat sceptical and put some searching questions to the participants.
For instance, he asked as to what the media had done to generate a free debate on vital issues. He answered his own question by saying that the media had not been able to create an environment for free debate.
“We have not been able to create an intellectual environment which has affected the power and the quality of the media. We are obsessed with politics in the country.”
He blamed the education system for this shortcoming, as, he said, it had failed to motivate students to embark on a quest for knowledge.
Kamal Siddiqui, a noted journalist, said Pakistan had a rich history of journalists fighting for the rights enshrined in the charter of democracy but he said there were many restrictions that were selective. Siddiqui said there was cause for concern because the laws pertaining to libel and defamation were not adequate enough. Their operation left lots to be desired and had to be streamlined, he added.
Most of all, Siddiqui said, the laws had to be viewed in the light of the present-day world which was constantly changing and the spheres of activity continuously expanding in their scope on account of the developments in technology which had revolutionised life and the way people viewed it. Technology, he said, had made so many aspects of the endeavour of journalism redundant while it had opened up new vistas with which came a new set of needs and prerequisites.
He agreed with a discussant that the corporate sector had affected the working of journalism as the sector had lots of money to throw around and in a capitalist set-up where he who pays the piper calls the tune, the corporate sector had an unfair advantage in that it could use its financial muscle to manipulate matters in its favour.
Social media blogger, Faisal Kapadia, said that the United Nations considered access to the Internet a basic human right. He was against the blocking of websites and as, he said, most of these were innocuous and the livelihood of so many people. “Who is qualified to decide as to what is against national interests? The process of banning is totally ad hoc.”
Later, William Martin, the US consul-general in Karachi, in his closing remarks, lauded the Pakistani journalists for the courage and initiative and said, “It is brave people like journalists that will lead the change, lead development through their insight and pursuit of truth.”
Martin further said, “Media is strengthening democracy and making it more representative of the people. Media is amplifying the diversity of voices that makes life such a rich experience for all of us. And all of this is possible because journalists exercise their freedom of speech, their freedom of expression, every day.”
Earlier, Amanda Caldwell, Public Affairs officer of the US Consulate-General, welcomed the participants.
A book titled Media Law, translated into Urdu, was also distributed among the participants.