Useful reports, useless action
On January 15, 2013, a bench of the honourable Supreme Court (SC) ordered the creation of a commission to conduct research into nine terms of reference (TORs) raised through the filing of several petitions in the SC. The commission had Mr Justice (retd) Nasir Aslam Zahid as the chairman and Senator (retd) Javed Jabbar as its member. The commission took necessary steps, i.e. through advertisements, to ask the citizens to contribute their views with regards to the TORs of the commission.
After compiling the views of the citizens and the media, and after interviewing more than 161 experts, the commission came up with a report, which is famously known as the ‘media commission report.’ This report was launched in two parts. The first part of the report was immediately available on the SC’s website, after its approval. Part A of the report particularly dealt with a TOR that required the commission to “inquire into allegations of media-related corruption and suggest steps to ensure impartial and independent media for the upcoming elections.” Even after 45 days of posting part A of the media commission’s report, not a single review or analysis of the report was conducted by an individual, media expert or any organisation. Even the SC directed the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to take note of the recommendations provided by the commission but nothing happened.
Similarly, the report made specific recommendations to the print and electronic media, in addition to the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA), line ministries, civil society groups and citizens. However, none of these recommendations were taken seriously by the media. The media did not even try to convey these recommendations to the citizens or other stakeholders. Self-regulation is one of the bitterest pills for our media industry to swallow. Perhaps this is the reason why the media commission report was neglected by the media.
The media commission report also disclosed the names of recipients of secret funds given by the ministry of information. However, this too was unable to garner the attention of the media. After the release of the report, it was expected that the media would take appropriate action to inform the citizens, civil society and others about the content of the report but that did not happen, which is raising further eyebrows on the role of the media in its self-regulation, as a number of recommendations provided in the report were related to the self-regulation of the media.
The commission is of the view that the report and the recommendations provided in it have been compiled after detailed discussions and consultations with all the important stakeholders and, therefore, it is important that the report be highlighted on all possible platforms. This is important as the report addresses basic issues faced by the media and it should be reviewed by all the relevant quarters. Most importantly, the report instigates all the important media stakeholders to engage in positive dialogue and take necessary action.
The commission has very tactfully highlighted the need for an improved and useful regulation for the media. The commission notes that the regulation exists but either it is too weak or is unable to address the issues. The commission also notes that there are certain areas where there is no regulation at all. For instance, the advertising industry, which is one of the major influences on media content, does not have any regulation. There are no parent organisations to oversee the role of advertising agencies in controlling media content. The commission kept on stressing the need for self-regulation of the media. It recommended that the legislature needs to define and describe legal and social responsibility parameters, which can be used for self-regulation of the media.
One of the most alarming yet useful points raised by Mr Javed Jabbar at the launch of the report was that there are numerous religious television channels operating in the country without a licence but on the other hand the channels that have licences are being shut down. He strictly criticised the role of various media channels in fueling media wars in the country. The forming of a media law review task force was also recommended. On the other hand, the role of all the important stakeholders including parliament, civil society, the media and line ministries is important in improving the overall role of the media in society.
It is important that codes of conduct or media regulations exist and that institutions like PEMRA be strengthened to enforce these codes and regulations. This is the only way our media industry will rid itself of various allegations, which led to the formation of the media commission by the SC in the first place.