ISLAMABAD: Participants of a conference on “Media Regulations, Challenges and Reforms’ on Thursday agreed that freedom of expression is being stifled in the name of security, morality and contempt of court.
The conference was organised by the Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies in order to discuss the challenges faced by the media and the reforms needed. It was attended by politicians, journalists and human rights activists who criticised the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) for acting more like a controller than a regulator.
Also attending the event was Senator Farhatullah Babar who said: “Hate speech has flourished, history distorted and the curriculum disfigured in the name of religion while the freedom of expression is stifled in the name of security, morality and contempt of court.”
He said that when a Senate committee had started working on the right to information (RTI) law in 2013, it had asked all stake holders, including the defence ministry, to give their views on the draft legislation.
“While all the other stakeholders participated in the deliberations, the defence ministry asked the committee not to legislate for RTI without first obtaining a no-objection certificate from them,” he said.
He said the senate committee had dismissed the “contemptuous” directions of the defence ministry and had proceeded with drafting the law.
“I leave it to your imagination to conclude why a federal RTI law is not being legislated,” he said.
We have to strike a balance between security considerations, as defined by security establishments, and the larger public interest, the senator added.
He said the proposed cybercrime bill in its present form is also a threat to the freedom of expression and to privacy.
Former Senator Afrasiab Khattak also spoke at the conference said there is a gap between the de jure regulations, (meaning the state of affairs that is in accordance with the law) which includes the regulatory body and the laws, and the de facto regulation which included several notions invoked to curb the media.
“We have the 1973 Constitution which calls for a parliament, executive and a judiciary but I think the security state has expanded its control over the state system. It is the security establishment that is calling the shots in terms of making foreign policy, security policy and internal policies. This is the elephant in the room that is not frequently discussed,” Mr Khattak said.
He said while people had little expectations from leaders, they had faith in journalists who had been at the forefront of many struggles. He said that with time, a media elite has been established which now wants to be some of the most powerful of people in the country.
Pemra Director General Mukhtar Ahmed said Pakistani media wants unbridled freedom and practices unethical reporting for the sake of ratings. Pemra has to deal with many, he said, including discussions on sub-judice matters, intrusions in private lives, unedited live programmes and many other issues.
Human Rights Commission Director IA Rehman urged for early RTI legislation and said this was related to the freedom of expression.
Published in Dawn, July 22nd, 2016