An article by Ansar Abbasi in The News (Jang Group) about the recent notification of PEMRA’s Content Regulations 2012 appears to have caught the eye of the PM. The article criticises PEMRA for ‘ignoring’ “Islam, the Islamic values, the Ideology of Pakistan and even the integrity of the institution of defence and armed forces”. After reading the article, The News reported on Sunday, the PM felt moved to review the regulations. Unfortunately, this entire discussion is missing the point.
First let me say that obviously we do not condone any defamation of Islam, the ideology of Pakistan, or the integrity of the state or national institutions. But there are two important reasons why is is not newsworthy that PEMRA did not include restrictions on these in its Content Regulations 2012.
First is that the Constitution of Pakistan, in Article 19, clearly addresses these issues already.
Every citizen shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression, and there shall be freedom of the press, subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interest of the glory of Islam or the integrity, security or defence of Pakistan or any part thereof, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, [commission of] or incitement to an offence.
As the Constitution has already addressed these issues and directed that any resonable restrictions should be “imposed by law”, it is therefore up to the democratically elected Members of the National Assembly and Senate to draft, pass, and put into force such restrictions. Even if the Constitution did grant PEMRA authority to impose such restrictions, it would be redundant as the Constitution has already addressed this.
More to the point, however, is the simple fact that, Abbasi saab’s Ghairatmand chest-thumping notwithstanding, there is no evidence of media attacking Islam, Islamic values, the Ideology of Pakistan and even the institution of defence and armed forces.
It should be noted that each of the recent media incidents that offended the religious and nationalistic sensibilities of the people occurred in foreign media – not Pakistani media. Whether it was an offensive Facebook page, a blasphemous YouTube video, or an embarrassing BBC documentary, none of these were produced by any media subject to PEMRA’s authority. In other words, Abbasi saab has given himself a stomach ache due to a problem that does not exist.
That is not to say that the media does not have problems. Ansar Abbasi himself has been the subject of criticism by the judiciary for spreading conspiracy theories on the word of “incorrigible liars…of little character and credibility”. Similarly, Jang journalist Muhammad Saleh Zaafir found himself called before the Court and forced to offer unconditional apology for spreading false rumours and insinuations against the judiciary. Even more recently, Daily Jang was found publishing the most ridiculous conspiracy theories, all of which were proven wrong mere days later.
Pakistan media has many issues that need to be addressed – non-payment of salaries, lack of fact checking, conspiracy theories, sectarianism, personal attacks, and political operatives masquerading as ‘investigative journalists’ are rampant and unchecked in the media industry. These are real problems that exist. Media attacks on Islam or the national defence would be serious issues – if they existed. We should be proud that they do not. Instead of wasting the time of PEMRA, the PM and everyone else, we should focus on the real issues facing media today.