PEMRA vs PEMRA
All eyes are on Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA). No matter how incompetent or troubled it may be, the authority remains responsible for dealing with issues related to the electronic media such as the one making headlines these days. During this tug of war between the country’s biggest media house and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) or the armed forces, PEMRA is finding it tough to reach a unanimous decision. The internal problems of the authority were put on full display by its own private members, three of which went on air to announce that three channels of the Jang group had been suspended with immediate effect.
Everyone was shocked. The news had come out of nowhere. TV channels, who have willingly become parties in the conflict for the sake of commercial interests, could hardly hide their joy. Eyes shining, smiles everywhere. The elephant had been brought down. The vultures could now swoop in and feast. But the happiness was short-lived as it turned out that the decision had no legal standing. Five private members had called a meeting on their own, and gave a verdict in violation of PEMRA’s own decision reached in the previous meeting which was attended by no less than nine members. PEMRA was not to act until the Ministry of Law had responded to the queries sent by the authority itself. Other PEMRA rules were also violated by people who thought they would somehow pull it off. They failed miserably. If only they were as passionate about preserving journalistic ethics on other channels too. Watch any show by Mr Mubasher Luqman, and one cannot disagree that he is just a tool. Apparently, the regulators are in dire need of some regulation themselves.
There is still confusion surrounding the basis for the fake decision. Was the channel going to be taken off air for its coverage following the attack on Mr Hamid Mir or due to the blasphemy charge? This is a dangerous game. When you shut a channel down over blasphemy, you make the suggestion that the entire institution or organisation is responsible for the error, not just an individual. Thousands of people associated with the organisation become targets. Maybe they already have. Anyone can cry blasphemy and bring a whole organisation down if PEMRA sets the precedent in this case. People driven by commercial and personal agendas and religious extremists cannot be allowed to hijack public discourse. PEMRA must not enable or launch attacks against freedom of speech. A balance must be struck; upholding freedom of speech while ensuring grave errors in editorial judgment are only seen as such, and proportionate penalties given if necessary. This can be sorted out, all of it, if the aggrieved and accused realise that no one stands to win from the ugly fight.