It seems that the plans to regulate the media through some federal body have survived the departure of their most fierce proponent; the former Minister of Information and Broadcasting Fawad Chaudhry. His replacement, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister (SAPM) on Information Firdous Ashiq Awan, has put forward a completely new proposal, although the desire behind it – to hold the media accountable – remains the same.

Addressing a press conference in Karachi after a meeting with the Pakistan Broadcasters Association (PBA) on Wednesday, the SAPM floated the idea of “media courts” that will speedily resolve “issues” pertaining to the media industry. The proposed special courts will exclusively hear complaints by the media industry against the government as well as the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) and vice versa. She also added that media workers will be able to take owners of media organizations to court over unpaid salaries and similar employment related issues.

This new “courts” format is certainly more open than the single draconian “regulatory body” format proposed before. Whereas the regulatory body would be a power-imbalanced top-down imposition of rules, a special court would allow all stakeholders to hold each other accountable. Special courts in specialized industries are common and are generally considered an effective measure to streamline industry issues.

What laws these new courts implement will make all the difference however. If they rely on passed legislation on matters such as defamation, freedom of speech or labor laws to pronounce their judgment and are manned by impartial and trained arbitrators there should be no problems. But if the constantly changing “guidelines” of regulators such as PEMRA are used to hand down decisions, then the court will devolve into the typical draconian regulatory body by another name.

It is undeniable that the legal concerns surrounding the media industry are legion. Many in the industry would welcome a specialized court if it allows them to assert their rights against powerful stakeholders – but the dangers remain.