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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Regulating the Media Part II

Regulating the Media Part II

In Regulating the Media Part I I pasted the introductions to CRTC, FCC and PEMRA.

There is a lot of criticism leveled at the PEMRA by the media journalists and owners for the crude and crass way it is being (ab)used and maneuvered by the GoP.

Barging into offices and studios without warrants, damaging and confiscating equipment, manhandling staff. And worse! Black balling the owners and hindering their businesses.

This brings us back to the Judiciary. Yes an effective and independent judiciary to which the media owners and journalist can approach to seek relief and justice.

But as I have written earlier, an independent Judiciary cannot exist in a vacuum. The other two in this troika need to exist effectively also – the Legislature and the Executive.

(And ideally, an effective Forth Estate.)

The recent unrest and hangamas should be viewed in this context. Pakistan effectively has a functioning k(h)akistocratic Executive only. And because it is unchecked, the power tends to go to its head.(But that would be getting ahead of ourselves.)

* * * *

All major (media) organizations here have in place policy and employee manuals and self regulate themselves in various degrees.

So far, I have failed in my attempts to unearth any self regulatory guidelines in the major media players in Pakistan, which leads me to believe that either (a) they do not exist or (b) if they do, they are flimsy cover-up documents only.

One of my pet peeves was watching body parts on the screen. Without singling out Geo or ARY, almost every media channel outdid the other in showing blood and gore.

Some days back Dr. Shahid Masood had the audacity to defend this practice. Either that or he pretended innocence by saying that the channels ran a warning before showing such grotesque pictures.

The dead cannot complain at this treatment meted out to them. But we can. If we had done our job as viewers, perhaps PEMRA would not have stepped in to dictate to the media owners.

If the media owners had self-censorship guidelines in place the reporters and editors would not have gone over board in their zeal for this new found freedom.

If guidelines were in place the channels would not have blatantly gone overboard with gross coverages, half baked opinion pieces, plethora of commercials, and abrupt breaking news that were not major newsworthy items.

Earlier today, recently elected President of Pakistan Broadcaster's Association, Salman Iqbal (also President of ARY) admitted that the media has been a "bit" irresponsible. He also added the media should be "thoRa buhat" more responsible in future.

He also lamented wistfully that President Musharraf should have contacted them directly first, instead of imposing the draconian PEMRA. 'We are mature, we could have handled (the situation) better.'

Even this grudging confession is a welcome sign. And i agree that it should not have come to this. But the onus is on both of them equally.


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