KARACHI: Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Information Firdous Ashiq Awan on Wednesday revealed the government planned to establish media courts, aimed to speedily resolve issues pertaining to media industry, but the idea was rejected by the Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors as well as the All Pakistan Newspapers Society.

Just a day after Prime Minister Imran Khan disclosed at an event at the United States Institute for Peace in Washington that media would be ‘controlled’ through a regulatory body instead of being ‘censored’, the spokesperson for his government spoke about the need for reforms in the industry and redress of grievances through different schemes.

“The [federal] government has planned to set up media courts to ensure prompt justice to media workers and resolve issues related to the [media] industry,” Dr Awan said while talking to reporters after meeting office-bearers of the Pakistan Broadcasters Association (PBA).

“We will take every single stakeholder on board before reaching any decision and that’s why we are also in touch with the PBA for a mechanism like the Press Council to effectively address issues pertaining to media employers and their employees,” she said.

APNS and CPNE reject the proposed special courts

“The proposed media courts would hear only media-related complaints and grievances and would help provide justice to the aggrieved within the shortest possible time,” added Dr Awan.

“These courts would also handle the issues outstanding between Pemra [Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority] and the cable operators, who [often] move the courts of law against any action by the regulatory body, which causes delay in the execution of its [Pemra] policies.”

Dr Awan said the information and broadcasting ministry wanted to play an effective role for the resolution of problems faced by media workers and protect their rights. “As per Prime Minister Imran Khan’s vision to provide shelter and support to working classes in the country, the media workers will be protected under the Ehsaas Programme. We are going to introduce a new initiative called the Media Workers Ehsaas to mitigate their problems,” she said.

The PM’s assistant said the government planned to formulate a framework, in consultation with the PBA, to regulate the social media, which was not under the control of Pemra.

She also urged the media houses to pay salary and other dues to the journalists and workers immediately. If the employees and their families suffered due to non-payment of salaries, she warned, the channels would not be allowed to operate.

Dr Awan said that when the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf came to power, a huge backlog of dues of media houses had been left behind by the previous governments. In addition to Rs720 million, Rs100m dues belonged to the period from 2008 to 2013.

“During this period, the 18th Amendment was passed and neither the centre nor the provinces accepted the responsibility to pay off this amount. Despite reservations from the information ministry, the prime minister issued clear directives for the payment of Rs560m and the payments were was made promptly.”

APNS and CPNE

The Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors (CPNE) not only expressed concern over the idea of media courts but also rejected the proposal.

In a rather strongly-worded statement, CPNE president Arif Nizami and secretary general Dr Jabbar Khattak said their association “stood against any discriminatory legislation and would oppose discriminatory media law at all forums”.

The CPNE had already rejected the draft of Pakistan Media Regulatory Authority, they said.

“Press Council of Pakistan, Pemra’s Commission of Complaints, Wage Board Implementation Tribunal and other laws and forums are very much there for resolution of such conflicts and issues,” the statement said.

“...(F)ormation of media courts is a discriminatory step and such a move will be considered an attack on media freedom and tantamount to increasing pressure on the media and journalists,” the statement added.

The All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS) also rejected the proposed special courts.

In their statement, APNS president Hameed Haroon and general secretary Sarmad Ali said: “The media is already braving strong pressures in the form of press advices and measures of intimidation from ruling quarters which are tantamount to undeclared censorship.

“The proposed media courts would be an added and institutionalised lever for arm-twisting of media and reflect the mindset of present power centre that intends to curb voices of dissent by all means. In the presence of dispute and complaints resolution forum like Press Council of Pakistan and Pemra, there is no justification to form special courts for media.”

Published in Dawn, July 25th, 2019