THE media wars which erupted in all their tawdry and shameful glory last April continue to rack up victims. Now, it is the turn of ARY News and Geo Entertainment to suffer 15-day suspensions and the imposition of fines at the hands of Pemra, the so-called electronic media regulator whose role in the media wars has left much to be desired. While the latest licence suspensions are surely unwelcome news for the media as a whole, at least Pemra has acted within what its rules permit and has allowed some semblance of due process in its latest actions. In ARY’s case, there may be schadenfreude in certain quarters that the channel has been burned by some of the very fires it so vigorously fanned against Geo. Yet, surely from the perspective of a responsible and independent media, what is more important is that ARY and other media groups understand how short-term gains against rivals inside the industry can and will come at the cost of long-term losses to the media as a whole. When Geo News was suspended some two weeks ago and the unwelcome precedent was set, it was only a matter of time before the same regulatory environment claimed another victim.
In the case of Geo Entertainment, the suspension has raised a host of other more complicated questions that few will want to address or debate. Quite what the chilling effect on TV the suspension will have and how much more assertive it will make the religious right when it comes to dictating what content is permissible on-air will only be known in the weeks and months to come. Suffice to say that even at this stage, a dangerous precedent has been set where the mere whiff of bad judgement has provoked such a campaign of intolerance on religious grounds. More than ever, then, the original problem needs to be addressed: an independent, fair and transparent media regulator must be established with powers that are strong enough to deter mischief by the media but whose mandate is also to ensure that free speech and the public’s right to information are protected to the absolute maximum extent possible under the law. In the recent media wars, just about anyone who had any role or position of responsibility failed in some way or the other. Unless serious reforms are undertaken, a repeat in the future, near or far, is all too possible.