In September I wrote on Increasing bad taste and need for self regulation in Pakistani media
Two significant developments in Pakistan that have bearing upon freedom of Media are worth taking note of:
It has been reported that eight major electronic news outlets – KTN, Samaa, DawnNews, Dunya, Express News and Express 24/7, ARY, Geo and Aaj TV have reached an agreement on a code of conduct in terms of the coverage of terrorism. These channels have agreed upon a set of rules governing broadcast of images in the aftermath of a terrorist attack, the need for time-delays on live broadcasts, guidelines for covering hostage situations, the airing of demands and messages by terrorists, and the training and safety of news crews and reporters;
While news media is demonstrating sensitivity to public demand for this kind of code of conduct for self regulation the government appears to be going in the opposite direction. The National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Information and Broadcasting has decided to endorse laws restricting the independence of the electronic media. These are meant to be incorporated into the proposed Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority Act 2008. According to reports this is being done to ensure that nothing prejudicial to the ideology of Pakistan or the sovereignty and security of the state is propagated by TV journalists. This argument and the proposed new set of rules is open to misinterpretation and abuse - as has been at various stages in Pakistan's history where similar arguments have been used to throttle freedom of press and political opinion. These rules can amount to sheer censorship and the muzzling of dissent and criticism.
While we should fully endorse and support the steps taken by the electronic media self regulate and to introduce a code of conduct lets hope that attempts to curb their independence by the current political establishment, that owes its very existence to this free media, is checked by the National Assembly. I sincerely hope that this is not one of the long list of suicidal political gaffes by our current lords and masters.