Every now and then, some section of the media will do something which would be deemed as outrageous and unjustified by the viewers, leading to calls for something to be done about the ‘irresponsibility and sensationalism’ of the media, particularly the electronic kind. This may not have been what media critics had in mind, but now the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) is taking action and working on formulating a code for TV content. There are few details of what appear in this code but the earlier signs are ominous. Both Information Minister Firdous Ashiq Awan and a Pemra official have said that the code will seek to protect the country’s socio-cultural and religious values and work for the sake of national interest. How such amorphous terms are defined could have a significant bearing on the freedom of the media.
Already, for the sake of national unity, Pemra has ‘advised’ the media not to interview Baloch separatist leaders. Once Pemra codifies its power to advise channels on content, strictly in consideration of the national interest of course, we could end up with a scenario where the regulatory authority is dictating every aspect of content.
Pemra may not be the solution but that does not mean that there isn’t a problem with the media. In a rush to break news, channels take all sorts of liberties with facts, run pictures and videos of dead and dying people and can end up interfering with necessary police work at the scene of a crime rather than just reporting on it. Talk shows frequently cross a line of decency and, as we saw in the case of Maya Khan, morning show hosts see themselves as the final arbiter of morality. The solution here, though, is not more government regulation. What we need instead is for all channels to devise a common code of conduct and then have an independent body to ensure that everyone implements it.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 29th, 2012.
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