In a democracy media ideally should be self-regulatory, admits the PTI-led coalition government in its preamble to what it calls the ‘concept’ of Pakistan Media Regulatory Authority (PMRA).
But in the very next breath, the authors of the ‘concept’ hurry to assert that the demerits of self-regulation outweigh its merits, therefore, the government’s regulatory role needs to be renewed and redesigned.
However, an in-depth study of the ‘concept’ makes it clear that the actual purpose of PMRA is not to regulate but to control the media.
Here is what the government on its own has decided to be the merits and demerits of self-regulations: Merits — a) Proximity: Self-regulatory organisations are by definition more accessible and closer to the industry.
They have more resources to access information from within the members. b) Flexibility: Self-regulatory organisations are more flexible than government regulations. c) Compliance: The ratio of compliance to self-regulation is much higher than compliance to government rules. d) Collective Interest: The compliance also is more robust because of the collective self-interest of the industry. e) Resources: Self-regulatory institutions are able to generate more resources through membership fees, etc.
Demerits — a) Conflict of Interest: The proximity and accessibility of information does not necessarily mean that it will be used effectively and efficiently to regulate.
It also means that older and more resourceful members will dominate and use self-regulation to their advantage. b) Inadequate Sanctions: Self-regulation also means that no civil or criminal sanction can be imposed through self-regulation. c) Under enforcement: It is more likely that interest group will have more hesitations for self-enforcement resulting in under-enforcement of its own sanctions.
d) Global Competition: Regulation is to be kept minimal so that global competitiveness can be managed. Therefore, self-regulation will increasingly become minimalistic.
Toby Mendel, executive director, Centre for Law and Democracy, while making a critical appreciation of the proposed PMRA, had issued, late last year, a comprehensive note with the following recommendations:
If Pakistan is going to reform its regulatory system for the media, it should address key substantive flaws with the system, such as the requirement for newspapers to be licensed. 2) A strong commitment should be made to ensure that any regulatory body is strictly independent of government, as well as the media sector(s) that it is responsible for regulating.
3) The PMRA Policy should be reviewed so as to address technical flaws and inconsistencies, leading to a tighter and clearer document. 4) The idea of bringing the print and broadcast media under the purview of a single regulatory should be reconsidered. Far more careful thought should be given to how to address digital/social media. 5) The scope of the mandate of PMRA in terms of foreign media should be clarified and its mandate should at least not extend to foreign digital/social media.
6) The independence of the Authority (and the Councils) should be far better protected through the appointments process, which is currently entirely controlled by different levels of government and dominated by the federal government.
7) The members should be limited to two periods of appointment. 8) Far more objective and appropriate grounds for removal should be provided for, along with a clear procedure for this which protects the rights of members and prevents political interference.
9) The courts should have final say over whether a matter is or is not one of policy. 10) The policy approach to regulating content in the media proposed by the PMRA policy should be clarified. 11) Different codes of conduct should be created for the print and broadcast media and careful thought should be given to whether and if so how to address these issues in the digital media.
12) Any codes should not be set out in the law itself but should be left to be developed by the oversight body, in close consultation with media actors and other interested stakeholders. 13) At least for the print media, the institutional structure for complaints should reflect a co-regulatory approach, with significant media involvement.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 2nd, 2019.