TV anchor’s Pemra job to be closely watched
ISLAMABAD: “I have been offered the post but I have declined it because I am not interested,” anchorperson Absar Alam had said before the Supreme Court where he appeared in September to plead his case on affairs involving the media.
Now his consent to become the chief regulator of private channels as Chairman of the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) has raised eyebrows over whether his decision amounts to conflict of interest.
The cabinet division notified on Nov 11 the appointment of Mr Alam as Pemra chairman under the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, but he will assume the office on Dec 1 after completing his current assignments.
The fact that the bench, headed by then chief justice Jawwad S. Khawaja, expressed dismay many a time over the government’s apathy in appointing a permanent chairman during the hearing of the plea filed by Mr Alam and anchorperson Hamid Mir has led credence to a perception that he might have become the case’s ultimate beneficiary.
“There is no denying the fact that Mr Alam shot to prominence because of the petition which led to the outlining on May 31, 2013, of guidelines by a media commission comprising Nasir Aslam Zahid and Javed Jabbar and the enforcement on June 18 this year of a code of conduct agreed upon by the government and the Pakistan Broadcasters Association (PBA),” said retired Justice Tariq Mehmood, a former president of the Supreme Court Bar Association.
“This post may have been a reward for defending the PML-N government as anchorperson in one channel of the electronic media during PTI’s dharna (sit-in) days,” the senior counsel alleged.
Mr Alam and Mr Mir, through the joint petition filed in 2012, had accused the government of doling out billions of rupees from secret funds maintained by the information ministry allegedly to influence media houses and journalists.
The two pleaded that the court should form a commission to investigate the sources of income of TV channel owners, advertising agencies and anchorpersons.
“This acceptance of the job attracts more the concept of ‘regulatory capture’ — originating from the US — than conflict of interest, which was examined in the Muhammad Ashraf Tiwana case by the Supreme Court in 2013,” said former additional advocate general of Punjab Jawwad Hassan.
How can a person engaged in a profession regulate his colleagues involved in the same business if he becomes their regulator, wondered Mr Hassan, who is also the author of a book on media and mass communication laws in Pakistan.
He recalled that the Supreme Court had, on a petition of Mr Tiwana on April 12, 2013, declared illegal the appointment of Muhammad Ali Ghulam Muhammad as chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan because he was the largest shareholder and director of a private brokerage firm, Fortune Securities.
According to a senior journalist and columnist, Mr Alam has chosen to accept an administrative post over journalism — a tedious task entailing ramifications for the profession if he fails.
Alam defends himself: Mr Alam said that aspiring for the post of Pemra chief did not come under conflict of interest, saying his rights as a citizen had not ceased to exist because of being a petitioner in a case.
He recalled that when he had informed the court, which had taken up the media commission case, that he was not interested in the job, Justice Khawaja had said it was very honourable of him to decline it, but at the same time observed that even if he aspired to it, the matter did not involve a conflict of interest.