THE President of the Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors (CPNE), Mujeebur Rehman Shami, and the President of the All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS), Hameed Haroon have deplored the coercive actions initiated by the Competition Commission of Pakistan (CCP), against the Pakistan Broadcasters Association (PBA). They have strongly questioned whether these actions constitute “reasonable” measures. They have urged the CCP to immediately reverse the “arbitrary” actions against a body that is “a legitimate functioning part of a free and fair press” under Article 19 of the Constitution of Pakistan.
“It is not the CCP investigating competitive practices that we take virulent objection to. What we object to are the arbitrary and unreasonable actions that accompanied their covert investigation against the apex broadcasters’ body, unfortunately on the very evening that the 21st constitutional amendment was being voted upon in parliament. Surely this is no mere coincidence.
“By all means the press is open to a CCP investigation of all unfair trade practices, if any. We uphold this facet of the CCP’s function. But the meaningless and self-serving press release by the CCP after its action mentions two frivolous charges – the first, that a centralised clearance system has been operating for the financial recovery of media dues against defaulting advertisers, including government – a system that exists in over one hundred countries of the world, and indeed has existed in Pakistan well before 1947. The second charge is equally absurd, where the PBA is accused of fixing rates of commissions to advertising agencies at 15 per cent (although obviously not the quantum of advertising commissions themselves) – a standard practice that is carried out in almost all the countries of the world, and is far older than the creation of Pakistan. Does the CCP really mean to imply, that all regulatory agencies in the world who have accepted these practices as not being inconsistent with competitiveness, are totally negligent in the performance of their duties?
“Clearly the CCP has got it deeply wrong, and particularly when they accompany this with the draconian actions of arriving virtually unannounced to impound the entire legal record of the PBA. The bona fide of this cat-and-mouse action are highly questionable. The CCP could have asked for the required information which the apex body of the broadcasters would have provided willingly. And never has the PBA ever refused to provide the information, which has never been asked for.”
The CCP press release states that section 4 of the Competition Act “prohibits decisions by an association of undertakings that may prevent, restrict, or reduce competition in the relevant market.” We ask: “Has the CCP ever considered the rate centralising and rate fixing taking place by the Press Information Department in the Federal Ministry of Information, Broadcasting and National Heritage in this context? Surely there appears to be a major legal asymmetry here.
“Clearly the need of the hour is for immediate steps to be taken by the CCP if they are not to completely lose credibility in the eyes of the nation. Firstly, all seized documents must be returned without any further delay so as to allow the PBA to perform its day-to-day functions with respect to the press. Secondly, a future procedure to deal with cooperating media bodies that exist to further the provisions of Article 19 of the Constitution, should replace the existing cat-and-mouse game. Such an evolved procedure should not only be deemed reasonable by all democracy-loving people, but also significantly appear to be reasonable to the nation.
“Let the investigation of the CCP continue without prejudice. We welcome it. But let them learn to work within the parameters of what is reasonable in law and what is sustainable in natural justice. Otherwise, we in the media, when confronted by unreasonable decisions in being lumped together with errant poultry-feed manufacturers, auto dealers and cement manufacturers, might begin to believe that something other than the course of justice is being served by such unreasonable and arbitrary actions.”
Published in Dawn, January 9th, 2015