islamabad - Broadcast journalists can help expose wrongs and uphold rights, a PIPS report said yesterday

These can be achieved if the broadcast media, recent entrant with great following, is regulated in line with the global standards.

These are some of the findings of the report released by Pak Institute for Peace Studies, an Islamabad-based think-tank.

‘Regulating Broadcast Media: Challenges and Reforms’ is compiled from the thoughts and experiences shared in international conference, organized by PIPS, on regulating broadcast regulation, held in July in Islamabad.

These call for making regulator an independent body, tightening laws to do away with loopholes restricting speech on ambiguous grounds, and diversifying the revenue pool of TV channels.

More than 50 media professionals, including journalists, trainers, and regulators participated in that conference. 

The report notes even though the phenomenal growth of broadcast media since 2002 has opened new vistas to citizens, their broadcast is far from perfect.

One element missing from this sector is diversity: There is monotony of content, with same programs shown over and over.

The perspective is often of urban areas. Outlets are owned by a few owners. Even the viewers, to whom the content is shaped, are in urban areas. 

An overarching body is supposed to regulate the entire broadcast media industry, so that the content telecasted is acceptable to the people of Pakistan. Even though the Constitution of Pakistan upholds the right to freely express one’s thought, and since 2010, the right to seek information, these rights come with some restrictions in the name of public morality and national security, says the report. Thus, in practice, authorities and courts have often invoked those exemptions. Journalists call such restrictions as attempts to tame media.

This debate, the report notes, finds its way in the recent work of Pakistan Electronic Media Regulation Authority (PEMRA), as it tries to fine TV channels and their anchors for what the authority sees as transgressions.

Much of the challenges PEMRA has to deal with, are inherent in the way entire industry works, which excludes journalists and consumers/viewers in deciding what needs to be telecasted. 

For one, the broadcast media rather generates money through advertisements, which are allocated on the basis of ratings drawn from meters installed in selected households in the country, mostly urban areas.  

The report projects that in the coming future, broadcast media will shift from digital satellite to the internet, in which case, the need for having a regulator – a primary task of which is to issue licenses – will be revisited.

Questions will also be raised on whether the regulator will be able to enforce restrictions in the name of morality or security, given that viewers can access similar content from all over the web. 

To this end, the report noted, any knee-jerk reaction then could be best avoided now. Working for effective regulation is one way. Efforts must be made to shape PEMRA an autonomous body, with oversight of the parliament but independent from both government and media industry.