07/31/2021

PEMRA Directs Private TV Channels to Change Coverage of Official Meetings, Sparking Outrage from Stakeholders

PEMRA in a notice advised all satellite television channels not to use “informal sources” to report on official meetings under progress, sparking outrage from stakeholders. The notice, issued on April 28, said that television channel licensees should rely mainly on briefings made by cabinet members.

The move was apparently triggered by television channels airing news about official meetings, like cabinet meetings, by gathering information through “informal sources,” which PEMRA said is “generally devoid of facts.”

The electronic media regulator alleged that the directive was given in order to avoid fake or speculative news, which it said is in violation of clause 4(1) of Electronic Media (Programmes and Advertisements) Code of Conduct, 2015. The clause states “news, current affairs or documentary programmes shall present information in an accurate and fair manner.”

PEMRA further said that licensees are expected to ensure compliance with the Code of Conduct and constitute an in-house monitoring committee for ensuring telecast of authentic news.

The electronic regulator said it will initiate action as per law if the directive is violated.

Backlash

In response to this notice, the Association of Electronic Media Editors and News Directors (AEMEND) released a statement strongly objecting to PEMRA’s notice. AEMEND said that it is the responsibility of journalists to disclose events of public interest, even when officials decline to comment. The association noted that often officials choose to stay anonymous while disclosing information.

“The PEMRA notice is tantamount to gagging the media simply for attempting to do its job and keep the public informed,” the statement said.

Azhar Abbas, president of AEMEND, said that PEMRA has been issuing such notices that infringe on freedom of expression over the past couple of years. He said that instead of acting as a regulator, it has now become a tool to impose censorship.

AEMEND will speak to the regulator as well as the government concerning the notice, Abbas added.

As for the directive to use mainly cabinet members as sources, Abbas said that when a grave mistake is made in a news telecast, PEMRA should step in to impose consequences, but blanket bans should not be allowed. If the only narrative being shown is that of the government, it renders the job of the journalist mostly redundant.

He further added that the notice may eventually potentially extend to journalists using only government sources to cover all government issues.

Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PJUJ) also released a statement demanding the government to withdraw its advice, declaring it unconstitutional for violating freedom of speech.

PFUJ also noted that often government officials decline to comment, but then refute the news once it has been reported instead of confirming or denying it when asked.

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