KARACHI, Aug 26: No one should be intimidated by the media and it is our moral duty to challenge their power if they are committing a mistake and praise them if they do good work, said former senator Javed Jabbar at a roundtable conference on Monday.
There should be a public service broadcasting network and news and advertising broadcasting standard authority, he added in response to the observation that media houses didn’t pay their taxes and if someone raised the issue, they’d intimidate him.
A participant in the roundtable conference earlier expressed his opinion that media houses had become political houses as they were targeting and dictating the government. He said owners of media outlets decided what should go on air and what shouldn’t. The media weren’t free, he added.
The roundtable conference was held to review recommendations of the Media Commission appointed by the Supreme Court of Pakistan.
The event was organised at a hotel by the Citizens’ Initiative on Media Issues (CIMI) and Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) in collaboration with the Department of Mass Communications, the University of Karachi.
Introducing the commission report on recommendations to the participants in the conference, Sen Jabbar said in response to a petition filed by journalists Hamid Mir and Absar Alam vis-à-vis the corruption that existed in the media and allegations of secret funds, the apex court had constituted a two-member commission comprising retired Justice Nasir Aslam Zahid and him (Javed Jabbar) in January.
He said the commission worked on a voluntary basis having a ‘narrow timeframe’. Out of the nine terms of references (ToRs) given to it by the court, the commission immediately worked on one of them because the general elections were to take place in May. Therefore, the first part of the report was submitted on March 21 so that the Election Commission (EC) could consider its implementation. The second part of the report, which was to do with the remaining eight ToRs, was submitted in June. The commission met 166 people belonging to 86 different organisations. The report had 1,500 pages with 17 annexures.
Mr Jabbar agreed with a participant in the moot that there were too many recommendations but argued that they did not place responsibility on the government alone and instead sought a collective effort from all stakeholders —parliament, advertisers, civil society, media, etc. He said if the intentions were clear (iraade naek hon) the recommendations could be implemented in three to four years. He then told the participants that each of them would be given an assessment form carrying the gist of the recommendations that they could endorse, reject or endorse with qualifications. He said the report was a result of three conceptual parts — findings, observations and recommendations.
The first set had 12 recommendations with regard to the first ToR that Mr Jabbar said was also relevant to the local government elections. He then read out the crux of every recommendation and tried to elicit the attendees’ response to them.
The first recommendation was in connection with self-regulation… “To refine, expand, practice and enforce existing Codes of Ethics by media organisations themselves and by individual media practitioners and journalists.” The second was to have “a new level of optimal transparency about rates and costs of political advertising on TV, radio and print media”. Mr Jabbar said he was surprised that the EC didn’t even talk about the issue during the elections. But he termed it a ‘breakthrough’ that in the May general elections civil society went out to observe the process. He said the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) should be directed by the court and EC to “strictly enforce the existing rules and regulations”. He said the EC didn’t address the role of the internet media and there was no proper study undertaken in that regard. The issues of defamation and character assassination were related to it. Elaborating on another point, Mr Jabbar said the newspapers often published corrigenda and corrections if they committed a mistake but he hadn’t seen any such practice on television.
The first recommendation in the second part talked about the need for the media to be self-critical; the need to review (64) laws that were made when ‘conditions were different’; the decentralisation of a system of the selection of advertising agencies controlled by the PID; the merger of ministries of information, broadcasting and information technology, Pemra and the PTA into a single ministry and a single regulatory entity; and the change in the mode for the appointment of the chairman and members of Pemra. When a participant raised the question as to how the decentralisation of the system controlled by the PID could take place when the federal government involvement was mentioned in the recommendation, Mr Jabbar replied that he was suggesting the federal government gave ‘guidelines’.
This was followed by a brief discussion on the state-owned media.
Mr Jabbar read out a recommendation according to which “due consideration be given to reducing the shareholding of the state in PTV by about 75 per cent to reduce it to 25 per cent or less. That 75pc shares be offered to public at large through the Stock Exchanges of the country.”
The next few recommendations were related “to end the unfair monopoly status of PTV being the sole recipient of the TV licence fee”, “reducing the state ownership of APP”, “new legislation and reform of existing legislation for content self-regulation”, and “the funding for mechanisms that administer content self-regulation should be from within the print media and the electronic media.”
Reacting to a participant’s comment on film songs being used to highlight a news item during bulletins, Mr Jabbar said they (news channels) had made a mockery of the sanctity of facts, turning fact into fiction, subverting the dignity of politics and weakening democracy. When another member of the audience drew his attention towards the advertisers’ role in choosing content even characters in a play, he said there should be a balanced approach to things.
Earlier, Chairman of Mass Communications Department, the University of Karachi, Tahir Masood, and FES Resident Director Philipp Kauppert welcomed the guests.