“The ethics and legal framework of the media requires fairness and objectivity; it requires that journalists conduct due diligence before reporting any news so that rumours and insinuations are filtered out”
— Justice Jawwad S Khawaja, Judge, Supreme Court of Pakistan
There has been very weak enforcement by the Government of laws in the electronic media by PEMRA and in the print media by the Press Council of Pakistan, since they were liberated in 2002 by various ordinances (PEMRA, Printing of Books, Freedom of Information etc). Therefore, the Supreme Court of Pakistan recently adjudicated various important cases on media regulations in the context of fundamental rights guaranteed by Articles 19 and 19A of the Constitution such as the Hamid Mir case, the Independent Media Corporation case, the Sh Ahsan-ud-Din case, the Javed Jabbar case and MQM case.
Pakistan is one such country that has undergone a huge transition from a state controlled monopoly broadcasting system to a multi-channel, largely commercially driven, media environment. This was not the case a few years back. Back then media abandoned its dual function of being a watchdog of the government and informing the public and so citizens remained uninformed and democracy was crippled. Just like the electronic media,the print media was also controlled. Various ways were used to exert influence on the content of newspapers including removal of government ads, control of news print and sanctions were imposed on every newspaper that went against the government.
Article 19 of the Constitution of Pakistan, 1973 provides that every citizen shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression, and there shall be freedom of press subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law. Hence, the PEMRA and other relevant authorities imposed certain restrictions through Act/Ordinances, Rules, Regulations and Code of Conduct highlighting media ethics.
“Freedom of expression” was a concept that was talked about but nothing was done to achieve it in its true sense. But today things have changed completely. The last decade saw significant media liberalisation in Pakistan. The President of Pakistan promulgated the following laws for the electronic media: the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory, Authority Ordinance, 2002 along with its Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority Rules, 2009 (amended 2002) and various Regulations including PEMRA (Council of Complaints, Organisation and Functions) Rules, 2010.
To encourage the publishing of more newspapers, books and tabloids, the President passed Press, Newspapers, News Agencies and Books Regulation Ordinance, 2002 and in order to protect the rights of a journalist, the Press Council of Pakistan Ordinance, 2002 Associated Press of Pakistan Corporation Ordinance, 2002 and Defamation Ordinance, 2002 were passed.
In order to give us an access to public knowledge, the President promulgated the Freedom of Information Ordinance, 2002, Freedom of Information Rules, 2004 and the Electronic Transaction Ordinance, 2002 but after the 18th amendment of the Constitution, fundamental right to information Article 19A was introduced which states that every citizen shall have the right to have access to information in all matters of public importance. In the Dr. Shahid Masood vs Federation of Pakistan, the Chief Justice of Pakistan held that weight attached to electronic media stems out of the fundamental rights of freedom of speech, expression and of press as guaranteed by Art. 19 of the Constitution, equally important, if not more, the right of every citizen to have access to information in all matters of public importance as guaranteed by provisions of Art.19-A of the Constitution. Recently, in Wattan Pary vs. Federation of Pakistan, the Supreme Court held that Article 184(3) read in conjunction with Art.19-A of the Constitution has empowered the citizens of Pakistan by making access to information a justiciable right of the people rather than being largesse bestowed by the State at its whim. Hence, Article 19-A of the Constitution has thus, enabled every citizen to become independent of power centres which were previously in control of information on matters of public importance.
The Supreme Court in President Baluchistan High Court vs. Federation of Pakistan, 2012 held that for enforcing fundamental rights guaranteed under the Constitution, it was the duty of all citizens, including political workers, members of civil society and media personnel to make their positive contribution, so that the life, liberty, property and dignity of the citizens were protected and secured as per the mandate of the Constitution.
However, the media ethics were recently made law in the newly passed PEMRA (Content) Regulations 2012 vide Notification No. S.R.O.1265(I)2012, dated 25th September, 2012 in which the PEMRA being the competent authority enjoying a statutory mandate for framing content regulations and a code of conduct for the media and effective enforcement thereof passed Regulation 5 on ethical and social values which states that licensees shall show deference to the ethical and social values of the country and ensure that (a) any content that maligns or slanders any individual in person or certain groups, segments of social, public and moral life of the country is not broadcast or distributed; (b) content does not make careless references to any class or group of persons as being inherently inferior or in any way discriminate against any section of the community on account of religion, gender, age, disability or occupational status; (c) content is not obscene or indecent; Explanation: For the purposes of these regulations content shall be deemed to be obscene if its effect is such as to tend to deprave and corrupt persons who are likely, having regard to all relevant circumstances, to read, see or hear the matter contained or embodied in it; (d) offensive or derogatory jokes, words, gestures, dialogues and subtitles are not broadcast or distributed; (e) behaviour such as smoking and drug abuse is not presented as glamorous or desirable; (f) alcoholic beverages, tobacco products or any other narcotics shall not be shown; (g) content does not contain anything that denigrates men or women through the depiction in any manner of the figure, in such a way as to have the effect of being indecent or derogatory; (h) content does not contain any abusive comment; (i) content does not contain anything that, when taken in context, tends to or is likely to expose an individual or a group or class of individuals to hatred or contempt on the basis of race or caste, national, ethnic or linguistic origin, colour or religion or sect, sex, sexual orientation, age or mental or physical disability and (j) no content is aired that is offensive, indecent, vulgar or defamatory.
These ethical values are similar to the PEMRA Code of Conduct for Media Broadcasters or Cable TV Operators made under Rules 2 and 15 of the PEMRA Rules 2009 (Schedule A) read with Section 20 of the PEMRA Ordinance, 2002 which provides for the Terms and Conditions of a licence and when the licence is issued under Section 19, it puts a condition that every licence shall be subject to the terms and conditions and the Authority shall devise a Code of Conduct for compliance by the licensee.
The role of PEMRA has been examined by the Supreme Court of Pakistan in Dr. Shahid Masood vs Federation of Pakistan, (2010) in which the Court noted that PEMRA was created under the PEMRA Ordinance of 2002, which was promulgated inter alia, to enlarge the choice available to the people of Pakistan in the media vis-a-vis news, current affairs and other informative, educational and entertainment programmes; to facilitate the devolution of responsibilities and powers to the gross-roots by improving the access of the people to mass media at the local level and to ensure accountability, transparency and good governance by optimising the free flow of information.