THE needless controversy over media regulation may finally be heading for a resolution. In a meeting with Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry, representatives of various media bodies termed the PMDA ‘unacceptable’ in clear terms. However a committee comprising members from both sides has been constituted with the aim of finding a solution and looking into the issues of social media regulation as well as workers’ issues.
It is now fairly obvious that the proposed regulatory body, which would have been armed with draconian powers to fine and imprison journalists, will not see the light of day. The misplaced idea of PMDA has hopefully been buried. It should not have come so far and created such unnecessary controversy had the government given it deeper thought and understood that in this day and age, no one genuinely invested in the democratic system in Pakistan would ever agree to support such drastic curbs on the freedom of expression. It took sustained pressure from the media, opposition parties, civil society organisations, and various other stakeholders for the government to finally see reason and agree to set it aside. This is not to deny that there could be better regulation of the media industry and there exists scope for policies aimed at reforming archaic structures and outmoded rules and regulations that govern the rapidly expanding sector. In particular, the social and digital media require some regulation that can help sift genuine information and opinion from fake and manufactured news. In this respect, it is a welcome development that the government and media bodies have agreed to sit across the table and find a convergence of views that can ultimately translate into policy. This will be easier said than done though. Social media regulation is not just a challenge for Pakistan but for all countries that are grappling with the explosive, unplanned and unstoppable growth of digital media. In an attempt to regulate this space, governments can very easily skew the balance and end up putting curbs on the freedom of expression. Those undertaking the quest to find these elusive answers should therefore not rush matters. Every step has to be taken with a lot of thought and consideration, and wherever possible, global comparisons should be made to keep abreast of mainstream developments in the sector. Similarly, workers’ rights should also be debated threadbare so that their interests are held supreme while deciding on the necessary regulation.
Published in Dawn, September 17th, 2021