Supreme Court forms commission for media accountability
By: Shoaib A Raja
ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court (SC) on Tuesday constituted a two-member Media Accountability Commission headed by Justice (retd) Nasir Aslam Zahid and comprising Javed Jabbar. The worthy members of the commission have consented to act as a commission.
This commission has been formulated on the request of petitioners Hamid Mir, Absar Alam and Asad Kharal as well as other petitioners. The commission’s ToRs cover both media accountability, including corruption charges, and media independence and its impediments.
The ToRs of the commission are to consider the role of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting and other government agencies in ensuring the freedom of print and electronic media and whether or not there was information and material brought before the commission to justify the continued functioning of the ministry, consistent with Article 19 of the Constitution.
The commission will analyse whether and to what extent Pemra has been able to fulfill its developmental mandate and regulatory functions independently under the Pemra Ordinance. It will determine if it is consistent with the fundamental right under Article 19 to allow the government or its instrumentalities to be major players in the media through state television and radio broadcasters.
The court further held that the commission is responsible to ascertain if PTV, PBC and APP, the recipients of public funding of billions of rupees, have independent in-house management and transparent policies in place which advance the objectives of fairness and even-handedness expected of publicly-funded entities and to determine if there are adequate checks against lop-sided or biased dissemination of information by these publicly funded entities.
It also aims to consider the feasibility of letting the media adopt a self-regulatory code of conduct instead of content regulation, in the light of international standards and best practices. It will enquire into allegations of media-related corruption sand suggest steps to ensure impartial and independent media for the upcoming elections.
It will inquire whether, when giving money to different media houses directly or on the pretext of advertisement, were the government or its functionaries pursuing a transparent, duly approved, bonafide government advertisement allocation policy or were the decisions to buy advertisement space with public money made arbitrarily or without objective criteria or to favour particular channels, journalists or media houses.
The commission further looks to propose a single, transparent, objective, non-discriminatory policy for allocation of government advertisements between the electronic and print media. Whether the federal sand provincial governments, autonomous and semi autonomous bodies, government corporations or agencies adhere to the PPRA rules or other transparent processes while granting advertisement contracts to advertising agencies or media houses and, if not, then to suggest processes which are fair and transparent and which ensure the greatest value and fairest dissemination of information.
The court further directed that for the purpose of its work and to facilitate it, the commission shall have all the powers set out in Order XXXII of the Supreme Court Rules, 1980 together with such powers as may be considered necessary or appropriate by it to make its report on the ToRs; the Registrar of this Court shall arrange office facilities for the commission as and when required; the office is directed to provide two sets of the complete record of this case to the commission; the expenses on staff, logistics, travel within the country, stay outside Karachi, public notices for information or for soliciting public inputs, etc. shall initially be borne by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting subject to subsequent apportionment, and reimbursement by other parties based on the report of the commission; the commission may seek such further orders or clarifications from the court as it may consider necessary; the Sindh High Court may, if so requested by the commission, depute a Judicial Officer to act as the secretary of the commission.
The court further directed that the report of the commission may be submitted in court on or before March 31, 2013 or on such other date as may be fixed by the court if requested by the commission.
Earlier, during proceedings, a draft comprising six pages prepared by Syed Nayyab Hassan Gardezi , the president of Islamabad High Court Bar Association, with the consultation of the petitioners and other srespondents including representatives of the Federation of Pakistan through the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting , Pemra, Midas and other stakeholders on the court orders was presented.
The court on Wednesday had assigned this task to Gardezi to convene the meeting of stakeholders and ordered to submit the Terms of Reference regarding the formation of commission in the light of the earlier court orders issued on December 21, 2012 in this regard.
The draft submitted before the SC by Gardezi stated that these terms of reference had been settled with the consent of the parties.Hamid Mir, Absar Alam and media experts expressed satisfaction and felt the cause of independent media will only benefit with successful outcome of this commission.