This is a Pakpotpourri Exclusive
Review by Brig ( Retd) Farooq Hameed Khan ( defence/ security analyst/ columnist)
Author : Yasmeen Aftab Ali, Masters in Mass Communications/Law, teaches in Beaconhouse National University, Lahore
Published by Sang-e- Meel Publications, Lahore- Pakistan
Ms Yasmeen Aftab Ali’s ‘Comparative analysis of Media and Media Laws in Pakistan’ is designed as a hand book to serve students of Mass communication for better understanding concepts and laws related to this field . It deliberates upon the social responsibility of media in Pakistan and suggests steps to overcome problems faced by our media.
Starting from clarifying the concept of freedom of information / access to information, and Article 19 of Constitution ( freedom of speech and expression), the book covers various aspects of Defamation Ordinance 2002, PEMRA Ordinance 2002/ Amended 2007, Electronic Crimes Ordinance 2008, Cyber Law, Code of Conduct for Media Broadcasters/ Cable TV operators and PFUJ’s Code of Conduct. Comparative laws in other countries have also been discussed.
The author states that main crux of any medium of communication should be its Editorial policy, which in Pakistan is decided by the medium owner. The Editorial policy must be based on impartiality, fairness, accuracy and editorial integrity. A case study of BBC’s revised Editorial guidelines/values is presented as a convincing model for Pakistani media owners.
She refers to determination by the media itself, to analyze the impact of news on a society. Media must rise above ‘Me First’ tendency in breaking news which may be less than accurate.
The author admits that it took a dictator General Pervez Musharraf who allowed private television channels and radio stations, a phenomenon that changed forever the face of communication in Pakistan. But she fails to mention that a major private TV channel was kept off air for many weeks in 2007 on account of its criticism of Musharraf ‘s policies.
While discussing the electronic media, the author highlights two important roles for this medium of mass communication. ie educate the masses as well as improve standards of information. Yasmeen Aftab blames the electronic media in particular for the ‘ratings’ syndrome that gives rise to sensational reporting.
She is of the view that with proliferation of more and more channels, there is a competition to survive by aiming for higher viewership /ratings and attracting more advertisers. In this race the original objective of educating the viewers has truly suffered. Sensationalism has taken the place of objective reporting on many occasions while informing the public on ongoing issues.
The author discusses two recent episodes which brought into question the credibility of certain media anchors including the leakage of the off- air video footage of Bahria Town business tycoon’s apparently ‘ fixed’ interview and a female talk show host chasing couples shown ‘dating’ in Karachi park. Both anchors were fired after public hue and cry, but were later on hired by other TV channels.
Some pertinent questions on the role of anchors have been raised. Can an anchorperson or moderator be an expert and knowledgeable in diverse subjects ranging from politics, to law, to economics? Can he/ she ask focused questions if his/ her knowledge of subject matter is shallow? Does it lead to formation of an educated, well informed public opinion?
The author summarizes current problems of electronic media to include high level of inaccuracies, untrained staff, focus on first to report and converting non issues into issues. Tv talk shows often deal with petty bickering; screaming matches between opponents invited, leading to colorful exchange of abuses rather than policy matters or constructive discussions.
Whereas the author has highlighted inadequacy of current media laws/ organizations she has suggested improvements to enhance their effectiveness. Her eleven suggestions for PEMRA and six questions for PFUJ seem logical and practicable and merit serious consideration by these organizations.
It would have been interesting for the readers had the book contained details including implications of recently formed Press Council of Pakistan. This is an autonomous and independent apex body which would issue and monitor good standards of media ethics/ practice in the country.
While the author has paid tribute to journalists who faced public lashings, detentions and threats, the book should have open heartedly acknowledged the role of media in supporting cause of rule of law, democracy and good governance/ anti corruption in the country. In the absence of strong accountability mechanism, the media exposed mega corruption scams in state owned enterprises like Steel Mills, PIA, NICL and Pakistan Railways. Media exposed the exploiters and fought for rights of the impoverished and exploited.
The book highlights issues related to media ethics, responsibility and public accountability of media men. Though beyond the scope of the syllabi for which this handbook is intended, an analysis of equally important matters linked to journalists’ rights including their protection and welfare would have added to the variety of issues elaborated by author.
Are journalists provided adequate security while covering terrorism related events? Have state/ media group owners ensured the welfare of families of journalists who died in line of duty? Who is responsible for the deaths of journalists who committed suicide due to non payment of their monthly dues? Have the killers of journalists been brought to justice?
Pakistan’s media is a power to reckon with and is now the fourth pillar of state. Media shapes public opinion , more so the electronic media. The spontaneous impact of the video, whether fake or genuine that showed flogging of a Swat girl by Taliban and her cries, turned public opinion in favor of decisive military operation against Swat Taliban. Images of the critically injured Malala Yusafzai on domestic/ international media led to widespread condemnation with calls for military operation in North Waziristan.
This book, perhaps the first ever in recent years on media’s dynamics in general with reference to Pakistan’s context in particular is a bold attempt to state the truth in a candid and forthright manner duly backed by authentic references. But it is time for Pakistanis to know the truth.
It is a ‘must read’ for all including civil society, students / researchers of Mass Communication, journalistic community, media owners and media regulators. The book is likely to generate a vigorous and healthy debate in Pakistani media and civil society in coming days.
One of Yasmeen Aftab’s concluding comments is thought provoking – ‘We need an independent press, without pre censorship, but we need rules that makes a socially irresponsible journalist pay. Literally. Without the media realizing its first and last responsibility lies to the society, it defeats the purpose of its very creation.’