ISLAMABAD: The government and Pakistan Broadcasters Association (PBA) have agreed on a broad code of conduct for electronic media but differences on at least three critical issues still need to be ironed out.
The code will be announced through a statutory regulatory order (SRO) by the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) if the two sides succeed in resolving the issues.
According to sources, the differences are on issues relating to definition of obscenity, the timing of airing dramatic re-enactment of criminal incidents and the use of foreign content on local media networks and its control.
According to a report, the PBA has reservations over the sweeping definition of the word ‘obscene’ for content that would not be allowed to be telecast.
It insists that inclusion of material ‘against basic cultural values, morality and good manners’ to be forbidden from airing was to sweeping a definition of ‘obscenity’ and could be defined differently by different people. It says this provision should be deleted from the draft SRO which will also be in accordance with a recent observation made by the Supreme Court.
The government team is against airing of dramatic re-enactment of criminal incidents in the first place, but may allow it only when the content is assessed by the same criterion as required for a factual programme and is not telecast before midnight and after early morning. The PBA wants the airing of such a programme only between 11pm and 7am with parental guidance.
The PBA has demanded deletion of section 19 of the draft and argues that the media industry’s protection should not be a subject of the code of conduct. The government insists on going ahead with the section which says that except in case of the holder of a landing rights permission, a licensee shall ensure that the foreign content aired in a day does not exceed 10 per cent of the entire broadcast, provided that a broadcaster shall maintain editorial control over the programmes or advertisements at all times and shall not sell or otherwise provide its airtime to any foreign person or government for any programme with or without using the logo of a foreign entity.
Under the agreed draft, no content will go on air which is against Islamic values, ideology of Pakistan and the founding fathers (Quaid and Iqbal), or calls to take up arms against the federation or its integrity, security and defence or which derogates any religion, sect or community and could create disharmony.
TV channels will not broadcast anything that casts aspersions on the judiciary or the armed forces except in the case of ‘fair comment’, violates copyrights or property rights or incites, aids or abets, glamorises or justifies violence, crime, terrorism or offence, or blackmails or intimidates any person.
The messages of banned organisations shall not go on air and private information, behaviour or correspondence will also not be brought into public domain. Unnecessary details and footage of gory scenes, bloodshed or dead bodies shall not be aired.
In talk shows, the licensee shall ensure that no false, distorted or misleading information reaches the public domain and the shows do not intrude into the private life, grief or distress of individuals.
The personal interest of a reporter and presenter which may call into question the impartiality of a programme shall be disclosed before its airing and news and any other programme shall not be aired in a manner that is likely to jeopardise an ongoing inquiry or investigation.
Live programmes will ensure an effective delaying mechanism and the licensee will ensure that all those involved in a programme development do not take prior advantage of information gained in course of professional duties for private gain, including stock markets and financial matters.
The identity of victims of rape, sexual abuse, terrorism or kidnapping, or their families, and officials of security agencies in a rescue or security operation will not be revealed without prior permission. The channels will not air bounties or head money other than announced by government agencies.
It will be ensured that no interviews will be conducted or attempted to be conducted without the consent of the interviewee, save in public interest.
Advertisements for alcoholic beverages, tobacco products, illegal drugs or narcotics shall not be aired and advertisers will not be allowed to directly ask children to buy a product. Advertisements about lotteries, betting etc, black magic, quackery or superstition shall be prohibited, so will be the use of the national anthem, signs or symbols for promotion of products.
Each licence holder will appoint an in-house monitoring committee under intimation to Pemra to ensure compliance and monitoring with respect to the code of conduct.
The public interest has been clearly defined to avoid ambiguity – exposure or detection of crime, significant anti-social behaviour, corruption or injustice, protection of public health and safety, saving the public from being misled and providing information to assist people to take informed decisions.
Hate speeches will remain off air.
Published in Dawn, July 13th, 2015