With the media faced with a credibility crisis over the last few weeks, the Supreme Court has been approached by journalists for the formation of an accountability commission, which should also draw up a code of conduct for the industry.
Senior journalists Hamid Mir and Absar Alam on Thursday filed the petition, which also called for the proposed commission to launch an inquiry into the sources of income of TV channel owners, advertising agencies and anchors.
Supreme Court Registrar Dr Faqir Hussain told The Express Tribune that a decision on the maintainability of the petition will be reached in two or three days. The registrar did say that the matter of media ethics is already under the observation of a two-judge committee comprising Justice Jawwad S Khawaja and Justice Khilji Arif Hussain. The committee had been formed after a full-court meeting of the apex court took notice of a leaked off-air video of two anchorpersons who were interviewing real estate tycoon Malik Riaz.
The petitioners requested the court to direct the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) to produce the assets and income statements of all media persons – and also prayed that Riaz be asked to appear in court, with evidence, to disclose which journalists he has directly or indirectly tried to buy favours from.
The petition has been filed under Article 184(3) of the Constitution and the Federation of Pakistan, through Secretary, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA), Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), Bahria Town (Pvt) Ltd, Malik Riaz, FBR, Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) and the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) have been made respondents.
Speaking to Express News, senior journalist Hamid Mir said: “Our petition seeks that the sources of income of the government, Bahria Town administration, advertising agencies, TV channel owners and all prominent anchorpersons should be investigated.”
Mir said that an inquiry should be launched to find out where the government’s secret funds were being spent and why. “Also, Malik Riaz should be questioned that, in the past, how many anchors has he provided financial benefits to? Advertising agencies and TV channels should also be questioned where they are getting all the money from?”
The senior journalist asserted: “Accusations have surfaced that journalists are taking kickbacks to promote government campaigns.”
Responding to a question on his name being taken among journalists accused of taking money, Mir said that, once the plea is accepted, everything will become clear to people. “A commission should be formed which can execute a code of conduct. Why haven’t they formed one yet?” questioned Mir. “Why hasn’t a self-regulation body come into place?”
When asked what the commission will do and how it will benefit journalists, Mir said: “Whoever raises a finger towards another journalist, he will be held accountable. It would not be like anyone could malign another person’s name. If someone says something about me, I will be able to take that person before that commission.”
Meanwhile, senior journalist Absar Alam, while speaking to Express News said that they are not “dragging the court” in the matters of the media, but have approached them because it is their fundamental right as citizens of Pakistan, according to Articles 4, 5 and 19.
Alam said: “It is not just about forming a code of conduct; the credibility of the media is at stake.”
A copy of the petition can be seen here.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 20th, 2012.