Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority instructs television channels not to criticize the state’s anti-corruption institution.

Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority instructs television channels not to criticize the state’s anti-corruption institution.

Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF) is alarmed by the overreach of the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) and its latest order regarding the coverage of Pakistan’s accountability watchdog, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB).

In an advice dated March 24, the media regulatory body said that satellite television licensees “indulged in airing highly unsubstantiated, judgmental and unipolar remarks regarding National Accountability Bureau (NAB) and its functioning without getting official point of view of the Bureau with an alleged intent to malign the state institution”.

The notice added that this was in “absolute disregard” to earlier instructions by the Supreme Court and PEMRA’s rules etc.

“All the above referred provisions of PEMRA laws and ruling of the Hon’ble SCP clearly stipulates that all the licensees and anchorpersons as well as the guests shall refrain from voicing personal biases/opinion in any news report or talk show and moderate the programmes in fair, balanced, objective and impartial manner”.

While PEMRA is responsible for setting rules and guidelines for the broadcast media, it cannot dictate the content covered by the media. For the regulatory body to accuse TV channels of acting with an “alleged intent to malign the state institution” is a grave allegation being placed upon the media. It undermines the integrity of the media and accuses them of acting to undermine NAB. The media is not responsible for presenting a positive picture of any state body; instead, it is responsible to cover all developments in a fair and accurate manner.

As the media regulatory authority, PEMRA should not be playing the role of a spokesperson for state bodies and becoming excessively restrictive towards the media.

The latest order by PEMRA has been condemned by members of the media fraternity. The Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors (CPNE) expressed concern over the directive and said that it was a “violation of the canons of press freedom and free speech”.  CPNE criticized the regulator for barring television channels from airing analyses and comments regarding NAB’s activities in their current affairs programmes and news bulletins.

Meanwhile, the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) also condemned the directive. PFUJ President Shahzada Zulfiqar and Secretary General Nasir Zaidi “urged for immediate withdrawal of the letter and demanded stern action against PEMRA chairman and officials, who are bent upon damaging the image of the country by issuing such piece of advice and notices to TV channels on petty issues to suppress media and press freedom in the country”.