Broadcast coverage in low-access areas should be increased, Pakistan should develop an Internet-specific legislation, media regulators and state broadcasters should be made independent and investigations into killings of Pakistani journalists should be initiated.
These were some of the recommendations that followed the launch of a new report on digital media in Pakistan, prepared by the Open Society Foundations (OSF). The report, titled “Mapping Digital Media: Pakistan,” was launched in Islamabad on Friday.
Digital media refers to electronic media where data is stored and transmitted in digital form, as opposed to older analog methods of storing information such as radio tapes.
Marius Dragomir, senior manager and global publications editor for the OSF media programme, said the Mapping Digital Media project covers 60 countries, with Pakistan being the 44th country where the report has been launched so far.
OSF is a grant-providing operation founded by Hungarian-American businessman George Soros to promote government accountability, democracy and citizen participation. He said the project assesses the impact on media of increasing digitisation and growth of new media platforms.
Huma Yusuf, who wrote the Pakistan report, spoke at the event via video link from London. Yusuf said the report is important because prior to its publication, there was no one-stop option to learn about the Pakistani media landscape.
She said researchers can use it as a resource and media practitioners can use it to compare practices in Pakistan with 43 other countries.
The report focuses on seven areas in relation to digital media: media consumption, public service media, internet, journalism, spectrum allocation, financial models and media regulations.
“The country has great potential for media to grow, inform and play an important democratising role in the age of digital convergence,” Yusuf said. “However, the media’s potential could be undermined by the industry’s infrastructure, regulatory weaknesses, and an overall lack of awareness of the media’s role in a democratic set-up”. After Yusuf had briefed the audience about the report’s areas, OSF and Mishal — a partner institute of the World Economic Forum Center for Global Competitiveness and Performance — presented recommendations based on the report.
Representatives of the organisations said the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) should issue targeted licences and extend its jurisdiction to tribal areas.
They said civil society should engage with parliament to develop internet-specific laws. PEMRA should avoid media concentration and encourage diversity by awarding licences to community radio stations and by enforcing media ownership limitations.
They urged the information ministry to make PTV and Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation independent organisations.
Civil society and working journalists’ organisations should advocate for journalists’ safety, implementation of labour laws and wage award in media organisations and follow-up on the cases of journalists’ killings, the representatives said.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 6th, 2013.