Pemra fails to do its most important duty – timely conflict resolution
The spectacle of cable TV operators going on strike on 19th March 2011 exactly during the hours when the Pakistan cricket team played and won a tough cricket match with Australia represented, in essence, a gross failure by Pemra to prevent such an extreme action.
Just when the media sector and the people should have been united in celebrating a hard-fought, admirable victory, the country’s mostly-blank TV screens reflected bitter division, conflict and score-settling.
In the capacity of mediator appointed by the Supreme Court in October 2010 to resolve an earlier dispute arising between Pemra, Geo TV, Ary TV, and cable TV operators “to supervise that the smooth running of both the channels is not obstructed in any manner”, one had facilitated a consensus recorded in writing between all stakeholders to prevent the recurrence of extreme actions in the future.
In the Mediator’s report submitted in person to the bench of the Supreme Court headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry on 9th December, 2011, in the section titled “Outcome of Mediation”, Para 6 stated: “A proposal made by the Mediator to establish a Dispute Resolution Committee was unanimously agreed by all parties. The proposed committee will comprise representatives of all stakeholders and will meet once a month to deal with issues as they arise or will meet whenever required to facilitate settlement of issues without seeking litigation.”
According to at least two stakeholders, not a single meeting of this Dispute Resolution Committee has been convened either by Pemra or requested by any stakeholder during the past three months since all stakeholders solemnly agreed that they would use this process alone to settle disagreements.
Granted, there was one principal non-participant in the process authorised by the court. This was the State-owned broadcaster, PTV, which has refused, for whatever reason, to respect the exclusive copyright of Geo Super to the broadcast of World Cup matches. The Pakistan Broadcasters’ Association also did not formally participate in the consensus on the grounds that the forum had not been a party to the dispute sought to be mediated by, or on behalf of the court.
It is precisely in situations of this kind that the regulatory authority, in this case, Pemra, should act in a timely way to pre-empt the eruption of a dispute and prevent outright violation of a law or disregard for copyright principles instead of obliging the superior courts to intervene. When Pemra did act, it did so too late and in a provocative way rather than in a reconciliatory way by seizing the equipment of some cable operators which were violating the court’s orders to respect Geo SuperÂ’s rights.
In the context of the ongoing conflict between the government and the Geo/Jang Group in which covert, coercive pressures are reportedly being used to “black-out” the Geo Super telecast, the belated action by Pemra causes concern as to whether these were like measures by an “agent provocateur” to further inflame a situation. Though of course Pemra will simply assert that it was only attempting to enforce the law and obey the court’s orders.
But enough of accusation, suspicion and speculation. Pemra has a duty to render a leadership role as a facilitator and a fair, benevolent regulator which protects both the public interest and the lawful rights of broadcasters, resisting covert or overt influence from partisan interests or from government-controlled entities.
As the cricket team prepares for the quarter-finals of the World Cup and the nation cheers it on, let Pemra set an example of courageous, firm, unbiased regulation and enforcement. All broadcasters, private and State, and all cable operators also have an obligation to promote mutual respect and cooperation. To echo what the umpire says on the field before the first ball is bowled “Play”! And “Play fair”!
Source: The News