Reportedly, the government and Pakistan Broadcasting Association (PBA) after a protracted process of consultations nudged by the Supreme Court order have finally agreed on a code of conduct for the electronic media, which will be soon notified after approval of the Prime Minister. According to special assistant to the Prime Minister on national affairs, Irfan Siddiqui, who headed the committee, two sides however still have some differences on the implementation mechanism of the code and the government and PEMRA would address reservations of PBA with an open heart during the follow up meetings to be held soon. Mr. Siddiqui observed that the code of conduct for electronic media was aimed at creating a balance between freedom of expression and responsibility.

The media undoubtedly is the most important pillar of the state and there is almost a worldwide consensus on freedom of expression as an essential ingredient for protecting human liberties and development of the state as a vibrant entity. However freedom of expression does not mean unbridled liberty or a license to act like loose cannons. The exercise of the freedom of expression is contingent upon adherence to the recognized social and professional ethics. In other words freedom with responsibility is the name of the game.

The Social Responsibility Theory propounded by Hutchison in mid-twentieth century which is regarded as the Magna Carte of modern journalism, recognized the imperative of a pluralistic media cognizant of and sensitive to the ethical and cultural norms of the societyacting to disseminate nothing but truth to the masses. This theory also considered interventions by the government to discourage indiscretions and erratic behavior by the media, as a legitimate and justified action.

The introduction of the private sector in the field of electronic media and the accompanying freedom of expression is probably the best thing that has ever happened in this land of the pure. While it is heartening to see the media enjoying its freedom and guarding it zealously, it is equally disappointing to see the absence of the component of responsibility. There is a discernible propensity among the electronic channels to scandalize things, resort to blackmailing, rumour mongering, intrusion in the private lives of individuals, glorifying crimes and immoral acts, defiance of social and cultural sensitivities and dabbling in issues which are universally considered to be beyond the domain of the media glare. Issues like security, maligning judiciary and security institutions and promoting fissiparous tendencies like sectarianism which are detrimental to the national cohesion and solidarity; all in disregard to the internationally recognized professional ethics.

The agreement on the code of conduct by the electronic media is indeed a very positive and healthy development in regards to promoting healthy journalism in the country and the resolve of the government and the concerned media bodies to work together for this indispensable national cause. Reportedly it has been agreed that no content will go on air which is against Islamic values, ideology of Pakistan and the founding father and calls for taking up arms against the state or its integrity, security and its defence or is derogatory to any religion, sect or community. The TV channels will also not broadcast anything that is purported to malign judiciary and armed forces, tends to violate copy rights or property rights, glamorizes or justifies violence, crime, terrorism or constitutes black-mail and intimidation to a person. Further the messages of the banned organizations will not go on air. Unnecessary details and footage of gory scenes, bloodshed or dead bodies shall not be aired. In the talk shows no false, distorted or misleading information would be passed on to the public and intrusion into the private lives of individuals would be avoided. Live programmes will ensure an effective delaying mechanism and the identity of victims of rape, sexual abuse, terrorism and kidnapping will not be made public. Similarly identities of the security personnel involved in operations will not be made public. TV channels would avoid airing ads for alcoholic beverages, tobacco products, illegal drugs or narcotics, lotteries, black magic, quackery or superstition. To implement the code the managements of all the TV channels will establish an in-house committee under intimation of PEMRA.

As is evident, the code of ethics is quite comprehensive and takes care of all the cultural, religious and moral values of the society while ensuring freedom of expression and a discernible shift to a self-regulatory mechanism which is prevalent in most of the developed countries. The government and the PBA both deserve appreciation for bringing this about, particularly the government for its unswerving commitment to freedom of expression.

Now that a consensus has been arrived on the code of conduct for the electronic media, I am of the firm view that there is also an urgent need to establish training institutes for the journalists of the electronic media, especially the anchor persons, where they are made abreast of the media ethics and relevant laws as well as professional techniques and practices. These institutions can either be established by the government or by the collaborative efforts of the electronic channels themselves with adequate support of the government

Frankly speaking It is quite an ordeal to watch the current affair programmes and talk shows, hosted by some uncouth and non-professional anchor persons——barring a few honourable exceptions—- yelling at the top of their shrilling voices at the panelists, trying to rub in their own partisan perceptions and getting involved in a debate with them instead of listening to their views on the questions put to them. Being aggressive in approach is well and good but descending into an insulting mode is absolutely non-professional and detestable. They also lack the ability of a professional moderator to control the flow of the arguments as is evident from their nod to the shouting matches among the participants, presenting a spectacle of the shindigs rather than serious forums to discuss national issues; so repulsive to the eyes and jarring to the ears. A professional anchor person and host of such shows would always thoroughly brief the participants about the etiquettes of the discussion before coming on air and also curb his own inclinations to join the melee . Most of the anchor persons are inductees from the print media and are not well conversant with the professional culture of the electronic media and the art of conducting panel discussions or talk shows. Some even have not worked as journalists at all before landing into the arena. That probably is the reason that these shows look more like entertainment stuff than the forums for informative and educative debates. Proper professional training of the journalists working in the electronic channels, therefore, is absolutely necessary to achieve the growth of healthy journalism in the country and strict adherence to the agreed code of conduct..