Information Minister Firdous Ashiq Awan has dispelled the impression that the new laws and regulations that the government is proposing will threaten the freedom of media in Pakistan.
“No such rule will be imposed,” Firdous told a press conference on Monday. “We will seek consensus from television channel operators and only those points will be included in the final draft at which a consensus has been reached.”
Firdous said that the new regulations will build on the traditions of accountability and healthy debate and competition which have been introduced by the media.
Justifying the need for a new policy, Firdous said that regulations need to be updated to reflect the change in needs. “In 2002, when there wasn’t a single satellite television channel in Pakistan, a policy was devised. Ten years later, when there are 89 local and 26 foreign channels operating in Pakistan, is there no need to consult again and evolve a new mechanism?” she questioned.
She said that the objective of the policy is to curtail all illegal operational mechanisms and enforcement of Pakistan Media Regulatory Authority rules.
The salient feature of the policy will be protection of Pakistan’s sociocultural and religious values and supremacy of national interest. “There are recommendations on how television channels can help forge unity among the four provinces, Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Jammu and Kashmir. There are also recommendations pertaining to programmes on religion and news and current affairs. It also touches upon advertisements, privacy and personal data protection,” she said.
Firdous said that before new licenses can be granted, the capacity of the cable system needs to be upgraded. Currently, she said, the system works on analogue technology which allows 60 to 65 channels to be operated but 89 channels are being aired. “License-holders then complain that cable operators keep switching channels on and off at will. We want to allow channels only when the network has the capacity to operate them. The system is being digitalised and we’re looking at other options like DTH,” she said, adding that this is in the interest of cable operators, license subscribers and viewers.
The information minister said that Pemra had only opened consultations today and negotiated with the Council of Complaints as a first step. “The biggest stakeholder, Pakistan Broadcasting Association, is yet to be taken on board. Until a final policy is drafted, Pemra has no right to dictate anyone anything and the government will not allow it.”
However, she said, Pemra was formed to ensure a responsible media and it must continue to do so. “The parliament works under the constitution, the judiciary follows some rules and regulations as does the executive. Then why shouldn’t an important institution like the media not have a code of conduct,” she said.
The 2002 code of conduct, she said, could not be implemented properly and had gaps which need to be rectified. “The government alone cannot implement laws through force. Media operators need to partner with us. This is the concept we’re trying to introduce. There should be mediation and consultation, not confrontation.”