No radio licence issued to ISPR: Pemra

ISLAMABAD - Pemra Director General Mukhtar Ahmed yesterday said the army’s media wing, Inter-Services Public Relations, had not been issued any radio licence.

Addressing the participants of “International Conference on Media Regulation-Challenges and Reforms” hosted by Pakistan Institute of Peace Studies (PIPS), Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) Director General Mukhtar Ahmed said ISPR had some kind of arrangement with the sate-owned Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation (PBC) to run its radio services and the authority had not issued any radio licence to it.

“ISPR is actually extending services of PBC,” said the Pemra DG, responding to a question from a participant. The remarks of the top officer of Pemra came at a time when human rights activist and senior lawyer, Asma Jehangir, had moved a fresh application before the Supreme Court, seeking an order to the federal government and Pemra to disclose the number of FM radio stations run by ISPR and their sources of income.

Earlier, the participants of the international conference called for providing strong protection to freedom of expression and the media as a tool to combat corruption and other forms of wrongdoings. They underlined the need for substantial reforms of the law and practice regarding media regulation and related matters in Pakistan to bring it into line with relevant constitutional and international human rights standards.

These remarks were part of the statement released at the end of the daylong conference on media regulations held at a local hotel.

The statement was echoed later by former Senator Afrasiab Khattak who said there was a gap between de jure regulation which included the regulatory body and laws and de facto regulation which included several notions invoked to curb the media.

During a session on licensing and regulating, the participants pointed out how the UK’s Ofcom is often considered as a model regulatory body for others to emulate.

Maria Donde, International Policy Manager at Ofcom, shared Ofcom is accountable to the parliament, not ministers.

Meanwhile, Pemra Director General Mukhtar Ahmad pointed out the licensing process of the authority was quite rigorous, involving submission of applications, open bidding and other steps. He said Pemra had a dedicated council of complaints which received and reviewed complaints against any aspect of broadcast media and distribution services. Between 2003 and 2016, the council of complaints had received around 17,700 complaints, he revealed.

Amjad Bhatti, a development professional, observed the prevailing regulatory order was bipolar in nature: between the government and media owners. In this industry-regulator relationship, the citizens who ultimately consume the media are missing.

He suggested the regulation required a triangular approach among media owners, producers like media professionals and consumers who, in turn, should be representatives of the diversity of the society. He lamented the diversity was missing in the consumer aspect.

Senior journalist Muhammad Ziauddin also made a difference between public interest versus profit of the owners.

Afrasiab Khattak said people had little expectations from the owners, but they had from the journalists who had been on the forefront of many struggles. With time, he noted, a certain media elite has grown up, who now wants to be among the power brokers in the country.

Mazhar Arif, a civil society representative, said often the media follows discussions on the same issues, the same topics and even invites the same speakers. A single news item is shown throughout the day in a twisted manner, he said.

“Hate speech flourishes, history is distorted and curriculum is disfigured in the name of religion while freedom of expression is stifled in the name of national security, so-called morality and contempt of court,” said Senator Farhatullah Babar, while taking part in the discussion. “Electronic media has taken primary place and print media is in the secondary place,” he added.

He argued: “Right to freedom of expression is fundamental. Over the years, however, frontiers of the media have expanded. As the frontiers of the media expand, the yearnings of the media also expand. These are normally exercised in the name of national security, public morality and contempt of court. As media space expands, the bar also rises,” he said, adding it was a constant struggle.

Senator Babar wondered why right to information laws had been legislated by all the provinces, but not by the Centre. He hinted it could be because of national security. He wondered while freedom of speech was curtailed in different tags, there was no restriction on hate speech which continued to flourish.

He also called for the media to look inward. The media, too, he said, allowed self-censorship. “The notion of national security has been so ingrained. These realities ask for revisiting the formulation of national security. Equally important is the national public interest,” he asserted.

Earlier, Deputy Head of Mission at Danish Embassy, Jakob Jakobsen, said providing access to balanced information empowered communities and individuals. Karunarathna Parawithana also shared experiences from Sri Lanka.

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