There is a historical debate surrounding the question whether or not should media be controlled and regulated by the government or should there rather be complete freedom? First of all, it is essential to define what media is. Media is means of mass communication through technologies like television, radio or newspaper. Theoretically, and from a global perspective, notions of freedom of speech and public’s right to know all seems very attractive and beneficial for people. Everyone has the right to know the truth rather than a government-dictated text and controlling media seems to be an anti-democratic action so one advocates that there should be free media. The government should not interfere so that people should know the real picture of everything. However, in Pakistan, the right to know everything and freedom of speech are not the only things that should be considered, but rather other aspects of the issue should also be analyzed.
One should understand that there is often some information that is highly sensitive in nature and may be a matter of national defense so there always remains a need for government to ensure such information is not shown on media. Moreover, media nowadays has made habit of telling false or fabricated or under-researched news. The media has a huge influence on the general public and is to be held accountable for making youth violent and giving them over-exposure. Media also is to be blamed for promoting Indian and western culture; therefore, it must be checked against content that may have a negative impact on the people. Private media houses have profit maximizing motive thus to ensure people do not become a victim of commercial incentives of media houses government needs to interfere. Media is de-motivating general public by overly showing negative news and exaggerating issues. Hence, media needs to be put on a leash and controlled for long-term benefit of the society.
Looking at the background and history of media development in Pakistan, at the time of inception of Pakistan, a few daily Newspapers, periodicals, and radio broadcasting were the only modes of communication available to the masses and it remained so until the establishment of Pakistan Television (PTV) in 1962. The television, because of its interactive interface and animations, became instantly popular and reduced the importance of the print media and radio even though its broadcast range was limited. With the passage of time, as the coverage area of electronic media increased so did the influence of television. This shift from the print to electronic media gradually reduced the print media to a mere reinforcement of television news from once being the prime mode of communication. In 1990, a second channel was launched namely, Network Television Marketing (NTM). The electronic media experienced a boom in 2002 with the promulgation of Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) Ordinance 2002 that allowed setting up of satellite TV channels. Today, according to PEMRA, there are 106 channels and 116 radio channels in Pakistan.
Since 2002, when a number of channels started to increase, media started to accumulate power and freedom. Gradually, it took its own path of being highly beneficial to itself rather than the public at large. There are laws in place to control and restrict media, but media uses its freedom and power to blackmail the government. Whenever the government tries to regulate them they start propagating against the government, start to protest and the government has to take a step back. Media is to be regulated by the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) set up under the 2002 ordinance. The main function of the body is to regulate the establishment and operation of all broadcast media and distribution services in Pakistan. PEMRA has regulations like section 26 of the PEMRA Ordinance 2002 prescribes a Council of Complaints.
The main function of which is to redress the complaints of a common viewer against the contents of the programs aired by a channel. The remedies available to the Council of Complaints are to recommend to authority the punishments of censure and fine. Moreover, under section 27 of PEMRA ordinance, the authority can prohibit the broadcast of a program or advertisement which is against the ideology of Pakistan, creates hatred among people, is prejudicial to the law and order, damages national security, is pornographic or obscene or harms the legitimate interests of other people.Other than PEMRA ordinance, there are others laws like Defamation Ordinance 2002 was promulgated to counter defamation, be that libel or slander, and the remedies made available are fine of Rs. 50,000 and imprisonment up to 3 months. The above-mentioned laws make it abundantly clear that though media can be controlled yet the ground reality is that rarely have these laws been used to control the media and that it goes scot free. This is because if the government does take severe action, the media goes on strikes and blackmails the government.
There is some information which is sensitive in nature especially when it comes to the matter of national security. Pakistan has a constant threat from terrorist organizations like Taliban and from India, so Pakistan cannot afford such sensitive information like details of national security meetings being leaked. One of the latest examples, recently a very reputed newspaper, Dawn, published an article on a meeting held at Prime Minister House on 6th October 2016, in which both civilian and military leadership participated and discussed issues concerning national defense. Dawn news leaked the information discussed in the meeting, Dawn wrote about the rift between the army and civilian leadership (Almeida); this displeased the Pakistan army and the government. They raised their concern that this type of sensitive information should not be published; they claimed that Dawn published fabricated news and that this was not the reality and even if there is a rift, the world should not know as it is a threat to national security. They were of the view that enemy across the border or terrorist organizations seeing that there is instability in the government can put Pakistan in a vulnerable position. This is not something new. Over the years, we have a lot of examples where media leaked such news. Media which has profit maximizing motive and just want to increase ratings of their channel do not understand the sensitivity of the issue and argue that freedom of expression and people right to know everything allows them to air everything. However, publishing or airing such sensitive news is actually against national interest, it is like one telling its secret oneself to the world so the government has to control it and stop media from airing such news.
Media is also blamed of airing fabricated, false or unconfirmed news. For example, on September 26, 2016, Pakistani media reported that Bill Gates got divorced when this was not true (Faisal). Then in 2014, when Hamid Mir, a famous journalist associated with popular TV channel GEO TV got shot, GEO/Jang group without any evidence launched a campaign against the Inter Services Intelligence agency (ISI); held ISI responsible and; started speaking out against the ISI, which affected the reputation of also Pakistan’s premier intelligence agency, that is declared 3rd best in the world. Similarly, in 2010, when WikiLeaks started publishing secret information, Pakistani media started publishing fake news. They published that US diplomats described senior Indian generals as vain; wrote that there was enough evidence on Indian involvement in terrorism in Waziristan and Baluchistan; claimed Pakistan Army’s support for Islamist militants such as the Afghan Taliban and Lashkar-e-Taiba and; finally, they alleged that the then-Prime Minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani, secretly supported CIA drone strikes ( “Pakistani media publish fake…”). However, WikiLeaks had not made any such allegations and Pakistani media was publishing false news. Media has a strong influence on Pakistani people; people believe whatever media says and then react to it emotionally. If set completely free; the problem of wrong reporting or without confirming will continue. Telling false and fabricated news to increase the ratings but mislead people, deprive them from the truth and make people react to false news which is not good for the country A check is really important to ensure media remains ethical and does not cross its limits just to increase its rating and publishes what is true, not what will sell.
Terrorist attacks, violence, adult content, boldness is affecting the growth and upbringing of our youth. The youngster nowadays are becoming more violent, are getting exposure to sex early and parent’s complaint that media is over exposing them to these things. Pakistani media tends to show live scenes from the place where bomb blast occurred, showing blood, wounded people and dead bodies, which has a negative impact on our youth. They become aggressive and violent and fearful of being victimized by such incidents which further leads to anxiety and depression. For example, last year in December after Army Public School (APS), Peshawar, attack, media showed classrooms filled with blood, wounded children and dead bodies which were even hard for adults to watch. Then, today’s media has become really bold and openly showing adult content. Latest Pakistani drama Udari, aired on HUM TV, showed rape scenes and the whole concept of the drama was child abuse. ARY show Sar e Aam, a show that aims to expose malpractices being done in Pakistan, has also multiple time aired shows on prostitution and adult activities. Showing such content gives youth exposure to adult content and ruins the environment in which they are being brought up. Hence, the government needs to regulate media so that youth of children can be preserved and media is made more family-oriented.
Pakistani media is also to be held responsible for Indian and Western culture invasion in Pakistan. Culture is the social behavior of the society and is the identity of the people living in the country. Pakistani media copy’s Indian and western values in their TV serials and way of broadcasting the news and people getting influenced by this are incorporating foreign values in their culture. A study conducted in District Sargodha and Multan on the exposure to foreign media and change in cultural traits, questions were asked regarding Indian and western culture is affecting the lifestyle of Pakistani people. In this study, 114 out 150 participants agreed that it is affecting and a further 123 people of the same sample agreed that media is playing a vital role in the propagation of Indian and western culture (Manj 566). Pakistani media is promoting foreign culture to such an extent that wedding nowadays has totally influenced by Indian and western culture, the upper class of our society organizes bridal showers, sangeets, dholki, and mehndi that were never part of Pakistani culture. Schools nowadays have started celebrating Diwali and Holi. Media is to be blamed for this invasion, most recently a really super hit Pakistani movie ‘Ho Maan Jahan’ showed wedding with an Indian theme, wearing Indian-style clothes and showing Indian wedding norms. This is influencing people and culture, Pakistani culture is mixing with the foreign culture and is losing its original identity. In order to preserve our culture and norms, the government has to control and regulate media.
In Pakistan, almost all of the media houses are privately owned so it is normal for them to have a profit maximizing aim. However, when something is affecting masses, something is being watched by the whole nation and its effects are in the whole country, having profit maximizing motive is not the right option. Media tends to act keeping in mind their profits and not the public interest. Exposure of Malik Riaz interview with Mubashir Luqman and Mehr Bukhari and how channel took the money and did a pre-planned interview in order to make allegations against the son of Chief Justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Chaudhry and ruin his reputation is a perfect example how media values making profit more than telling the truth (Popalzai).
Moreover, PEMRA has laid down a clear-cut policy with regards to advertisements, its content, and duration per hour. The Pakistani media has been flagrantly violating every rule pertaining to advertisements in the PEMRA Ordinance 2002 to make huge profits. The content of advertisements has become a serious issue. The advertisement shows unrealistic content like latest Pepsi advertisement shows that by taking out Pepsi ordinary food can change into delicious burgers and pizzas and other advertisements tend to portray a false image of the products that when used is nothing like shown in the advertisement. Thus, the government has to regulate media to protect people from profit-oriented media houses and to ensure that people do not get victimized by the capitalist approach.
Pakistani people are getting de-motivated and have started to leave the country due to getting influenced by the negativity shown on media. Pakistan has a net migration rate of -1.4/1000, that Pakistan has an excess of people leaving the country than migrating to Pakistan (“Pakistan Net migration rate”). Approximately 2 million Pakistani went abroad for employment as it was told to Member of National Assembly in January 2016 by Parliamentary Secretary for Overseas Pakistanis and Human Resource Development Shafqat Hayat Baloch (Associated Press of Pakistan). Moreover, according to the latest statement of Ammad Zafar of Karachi University, Public Administration Department, 48.7% of the youth in Karachi wants to leave the country (Ali). One of the reasons for these figures is media. Most of the times media is showing negative news, criticizing our government and claiming Pakistan have a really dark future. Pakistani media has a formula that bad news is equal to good rating.
Like Zarrar Khuhro in his article ‘Bad news = good ratings — The Pakistani media’s formulaic demise’ criticizes media for always showing bad news and then instead of trying and understanding its roots, its causes and its effects and trying to analyze a crisis adequately, the media just to increase its rating, exaggerates the issue, applies the formula of simply calling in representatives from rival political parties, then have them fight with each other on air over any given issue. People constantly listening to the negative and bad news have become psychologically de-motivated. Not just this, media nowadays have started to air content against Ideology of Pakistan or anti-Pakistan material that is decreasing patriotism among the nation. For example, in 2012, PEMRA received more than 150 complaints alleging that media was being anti-Pakistan (Haque). Therefore, the government has to regulate media and ensure that media does not air things against the ideology of Pakistan, people are not shown too much negative news and stays within the limit and in the long run, people are not de-motivated and don’t lose patriotism.
One of the main arguments that are made against the media regulation is freedom of speech. It is said that under the article 19 of the Constitution of Pakistan, everyone has the right to express their opinion and say what they want to say and by controlling media you are taking away the right of freedom of speech from the media and they are not being fully allowed to express what they want to express. British philosopher John Stuart Mill underlined the need for free speech mainly for three reasons. He believed that freedom to read or write is an important element to expose and reveal the truth, to ensure self-development and self-fulfillment of citizens and to help ensure participation of the citizens in a democracy (qt Memon). However, the power of freedom of speech in Pakistan is misused. Media firms are not non-profit organizations; they operate as businesses and have a profit making object. It is natural that they will indulge in corruption and malpractice. Media uses free speech to ensure high profits by telling what sells rather than what is true. They often misguide people by telling unauthentic and not confirmed the news. Referring back to the examples that already have been given, Pakistani media recently using their freedom of speech gave the wrong report to the world that there is a rift between the Pakistani government and army (Almeida). In 2010, when the issue of WikiLeaks was at its peak, placed allegation against the then-Prime Minister that he is supporting the drone attacks done by CIA and had some kind of affiliations with CIA (“Pakistani media publish fake…”). When freedom of speech is being misused, is misguiding people, affecting the unity among Pakistanis, is affecting the youth of the children and compromising the national defense again taking the right to speak what one wants to speak is justified.
Media should be controlled and regulated as it is, in the long run, beneficial for the nation. Pakistani media is to be blamed for having profit motives and publishing content that would fulfill their commercial interest instead of benefitting. Pakistani media tends to publish sensitive information in order to increase their ratings but do not understand that they are compromising the national security of the country. Media also tends de-motivate the youth by showing the negative side of the country and is also is to be held accountable for showing adult content or violent content that is affecting the behavior of the young generation.
Invasion of foreign culture in Pakistan is also due to excess freedom is given to the media and media shows Indian and western culture that influences people and people tend to start following it. Having too much commercial interest, media often tell the false fabricated news in order to increase their personal earnings, telling the false and fabricated news does benefit their commercial interest but it is like lying to one’s own family. In order to ensure that media does not negatively impact our nation and commercial interest of media houses do not ruin the future of the country, there needs to a control over media, a system of accountability should be there and the government should regulate media.
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