Media tribunals

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THE Federal Cabinet on Tuesday took several important decisions including the proposal to establish media tribunals, which has sparked sharp reaction from the real stakeholders. As per Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Information and Broadcasting, Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan, the decision to the effect has been taken as part of media rules and regulations the government intends to introduce in Pakistan like the best practices being followed in other democratic countries but Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors (CPNE) has described the formation of these tribunals based on anti-democratic sentiments and hidden agendas of government.
The media in Pakistan is already under tremendous pressure and voices are being raised even at the level of the Supreme Court against seen and unseen curbs and restrictions against media. There are serious threats to the freedom of expression and a number of instances show lack of tolerance for criticism and the legitimate role of the media as watch-dog of the society. In this backdrop, there are genuine apprehensions that media tribunals could be used as a tool to put more pressure on media and such entities could prevent healthy growth of the media industry in the country. The Government is justifying the move by claiming to pursue the best democratic practices but would anyone tell where in the world such tribunals exist to strengthen the democratic process. There are a few instances of such platforms but they are used to suppress the freedom of expression as media there is frequently accused of “irresponsible” and “sensational” reporting, “no respect” for dignity; “inaccuracy” and inadequate reporting of so-called good news. In some cases, these tribunals are also used for pre and post-print censorship so that nothing negative is carried by media. One can easily understand the background of the move from the remarks made by the Special Assistant and comments she attributed to the Prime Minister which he made during the Cabinet meeting. The Cabinet expressed concern that some elements, by taking advantage of freedom of expression, were levelling baseless allegations and making propaganda on personal lives of government personalities. The Prime Minister was quoted as saying that reforms must be brought to stop the use of media as tool of vested interests and he also expressed disappointment over the performance of PEMRA which he said was not playing its role effectively. All this shows what the Government has in its mind and therefore, apprehensions of the CPNE were not misplaced. We hope the proposal would be discussed threadbare with representative bodies of media and the authorities would refrain from going for an adventure that could create more mistrust between the Government and the media.

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