ISLAMABAD: At a time when the country’s electronic media watchdog is asserting its authority on TV channels over ethical codes, the Press Council of Pakistan (PCP), watchdog for print media, is turning out to be a toothless and ineffectual body.
The PCP, although established in 2002 under an ordinance, became functional in 2012 after it inducted representatives from journalists associations.
“Before that, it was just a committee with blue-eyed officials from the Ministry of Information,” said a PCP official while talking to The Express Tribune on Saturday.
According to a council member, “the body is irrelevant in most of the cases and does nothing more than a lip-service and holding meetings for the sake of it.”
Since its inception, the council has taken up 1,460 suo motu cases over code of ethics violation, aggression against journalists and matters affecting freedom of expression, according to the council’s record.
Similarly, so far, the council has received 137 complaints against different newspapers in which 90 have been disposed of, 18 sent to inquiry commissions, 27 are under investigation and two are yet to be litigated.
Currently, the PCP is empowered to ask the newspapers to issue a clarification or write a rebuttal for a published article if it receives a complaint. However, if the newspaper does not follow their order then the council has the authority to impose a Rs10,000 fine. It can also write to the Press Information Department to shut down the paper.
A PCP official, when asked about the council’s reluctance to take such measures, blamed the presence of journalistic bodies in the council of complaints for their powerlessness, saying that with their presence “any such measures can be circumvented”. He also quoted the example of PEMRA which has no such member in its council of complaints.
“Not a single newspaper has been shut or its declaration cancelled,” he lamented, adding that the government should look into the problem and strengthen the PCP with the power to issue such orders, currently exercised by the area’s deputy commissioner.
Meanwhile, PCP Chairperson Salahuddin Mengal regretted over the current state of the body, saying that the council could have done better than what it was doing currently.
The chairperson also deplored the financial position of the council, saying, “We only receive Rs450 to Rs10,000 from different newspapers, which is hardly anything.” He gave the example of the PCP’s European counterpart, which, according to him, get 50 per cent share of the fee from newspapers and wires services.
Mengal also blamed the council’s financial constraints for its ineffectiveness, saying that it needed staff of more than 300 people to function.
Apart from this, the PCP is also facing an inquiry by the information ministry over the 20 illegal appointments.
When asked about these appointments, Mengal claimed that they were totally legal.